New report highlights the need for Nepal's bird conservation efforts to take flight

A new assessment of the country’s bird life finds a fifth of species are under threat.

Slender billed vulture
Slender-billed vulture

Conservationists from ZSL are calling for greater efforts to protect Nepal’s native birds, as the first comprehensive assessment of the status of the country’s avian species reveals that nearly a fifth are threatened with extinction.

Nepal’s National Red List of Birds, the topic of a report published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, was compiled over five years by a team from ZSL and led by independent bird expert Carol Inskipp, alongside Nepal’s National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC); the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and with the help of Himalayan Nature. The first complete assessment of Nepal’s bird species made using the criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the report also reveals that only nine avian species – representing just one per cent of the country’s rich bird life – are currently on the list of strictly protected birds.

From the soaring peaks of the Himalayas in the north of the country, to the lowland grasslands in the south, the team combined official surveys with historical observations, to assess the conservation status of all 878 bird species native to Nepal. Alongside an IUCN classification of each species (using the Red List categories of ‘Least Concern’, ‘Near-threatened’, ‘Vulnerable’, ‘Endangered’ and ‘Critically Endangered’), the report identifies the key threats to bird life alongside recommended conservation action. 

Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation top the list as the most urgent threats, driven by the country’s rapid population increase as human settlements, agriculture and industry increasingly encroach into the birds’ natural habitats.

Species of particular concern include those native to lowland grassland habitats, such as the Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), which face increasing threats due to the conversion of habitat into farmland, with associated issues including use of pesticides. Many of these grassland birds are now entirely restricted to Nepal’s protected areas. 

Larger species, such as the Indian spotted eagle (Clanga hastata), face greater pressure than smaller birds, having suffered significant reductions in their distributions over the last 25 years, due to habitat loss among other threats. Nepal’s resident vulture populations are suffering particularly badly, in common with other vultures globally in recent decades, due to issues including the ongoing threat of diclofenac poisoning. 

The recent implementation of a Vulture Conservation Programme is tackling this issue head-on, but few of Nepal’s other threatened bird species currently receive a similar focus in a country where the needs of iconic large mammals, including tigers and rhinos, have traditionally been prioritised.   

Conservationist Hem Sagar Baral from ZSL’s Nepal team, a co-author of the report, said: “Nepal has been at the forefront of wildlife conservation efforts in South Asia over the past half-century, with astounding achievements such as celebrating four years free of rhino poaching since 2011, however birds have largely missed out on these efforts so far. 

“We hope that this first-ever comprehensive IUCN Red List assessment of the status of the country’s bird life will galvanise conservationists to ensure that birds soon become part of Nepal’s conservation success story.”

Man Bahadur Khadka, the Director General of the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, Government of Nepal said: "This paper is an important step towards guiding Nepal in setting conservation priorities for birds in the country. This paper has highlighted the challenges and threats to our birds and urgency for actions. Based on this work we will be revising the list of strictly protected birds in Nepal under the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 2029." 

ZSL has published the National Red List of Nepal's Birds, a full account of the conservation status of all of Nepal's Birds. 

National Red List of Nepal's Birds

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