Iraqi WEtlands re-flooded and re-populated - Sacred Ibis back and spreading globally : Amazing pictures
The Mesopotamian marshes where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet - reputed to be the location of the biblical Garden of Eden, have both a regional and global significance for biodiversity as well as human culture and survival. By 1999, 90% of the wetlands in Iraq had been converted into parched desert land due to the construction of dams and hundreds of drainage channels by the Iraqi government and the population plummeted from 500,000 to less than 50,000.
Canada's University of Waterloo's Wetlands Research Centre since 2004 have particpated in a project of marshland restoration which kicked off with funding of Can$3 Mn. from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), with the support of Aileen Carroll, Minister for International Cooperation.
At 20,000 Sq. Km. they are twice the size of the Florida Everglades. Originally water had returned to some 40% of the previous wetland areas by 2005. De-population was due both to forced resettlement program and campaigns of included indiscriminate attacks by artillery, helicopter gunships and fixed-wing aircraft on villages. The victims, among them women and children, were rounded up in the marshes of al-Chibayish (west of al-Qurna) together with captured fighters of the opposition SCIRI. There were reports that they were taken to an army camp in N Iraq, where they were executed over a period of about two weeks.
The first signs of revival of the ecology has been were the return of previously reported bird species of the region. These include the rare and indigenous Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus, Pygmy Cormorant, Goliath Heron, and African Darter Anhinga rufa, the Dalmatian Pelican and Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris.
While many dams and canals ordered to be built by Saddam in 1993 have been destroyed, large dams upstream both inside Iraq and in Turkey are preventing the spring water surges from the melting snows of the mountains in Kurdistan from arriving with the force needed to flush out the brackish water that accumulates in the summer months.
By this spring there is now said to be around 60 % of the previous wetland areas reflooded, thanks also in part to projects overseen by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Richard Porter, Middle East adviser to Birdlife International, says that in recent years at least 160 bird species have now been recorded of which some 65 species are of "conservation concern."
"They are not doing terribly well either in Europe or Asia or the Middle East - Seven of the species they have discovered are globally threatened -- three of these are endemic birds, the Iraq babbler Turdoides altirostris and the Grey Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus , and the Basra reed warbler Acrocephalus griseldis which is now (remarkably) breeding in Israel.
"No species of bird has been discovered to have become extinct in the marshes. Everything that has been found is very positive for conservation," says Porter, illustrating the immense capacity for survival without man intervening.
Porter is co-author of "Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq." (Arabic edition only) which has just been published in Amman. Jordan on Lord Patel's birthday. Funding had been provided from funding from the Canadian Government via the Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative, the World Bank and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ornithological Society of the Middle East (OSME) and AviFauna.
The book is based on illustrations and text taken from ‘Birds of the Middle East’ (in the Helm Field Guide series), recently translated into Arabic. Nature Iraq was responsible for adapting the text for Iraq, especially that on status, distribution and habitats. The publication was designed by the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN) in Jordan.
Copies of ‘Field Guide to the Birds of Iraq’ (price £15.00 including postage) can be obtained in the UK from OSME Sales: e-mail: email@example.com
A 5th survey of the marshlands birdlife has been underway all summer.
The Sacred and rapidly expanding Sacred Ibis
For reasons which are unclear the Sacred Ibis (but rapidly declared to be evidence of climate change) has been spreading in Southern Europe and has been recorded since 1989 in the Canary Islands.
It has also been breeding in the Po Valley since 1989 and is now widespread in S. France with colonies established colonies have been established at various sites along the French Atlantic seaboard up to 350km south of Branféré, from Morbihan
to Gironde. They can also be seen as far north as Britanny and Normandy scavenging on rubbish tips.
They have also become established as escapes from zoos in Dubai and Florida.