India has named two new Wetlands of International Importance, bringing its total number of “Ramsar Sites” to 39. The Sites are particularly important to the avian diversity of their States, with each hosting hundreds of bird species of which several are critically endangered.
Kabartal Wetland (no. 2436 on the List of Wetlands of International Importance), also known as Kanwar Jheel, covers 2,620 hectares of the Indo-Gangetic plains in the northern Bihar State. The Site is one of 18 wetlands within an extensive floodplain complex; it floods during the monsoon season to a depth of 1.5 metres. This absorption of floodwaters is a vital service in Bihar State where 70% of the land is vulnerable to inundation. During the dry season, areas of marshland dry out and are used for agriculture.
Significant biodiversity is present, with 165 plant species and 394 animal species recorded, including 221 bird species. The Wetland is an important stopover along the Central Asian Flyway, with 58 migratory waterbirds using it to rest and refuel. It is also a valuable site for fish biodiversity with over 50 species documented. Five critically endangered species inhabit the site, including three vultures – the red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) – and two waterbirds, the sociable lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) and Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri).
Major threats to the Site include water management activities such as drainage, water abstraction, damming and canalization.
Asan Conservation Reserve (Site no. 2437) is a 444-hectare stretch of the Asan River running down to its confluence with the Yamuna River in Dehradun district of Uttarakhand. The damming of the River by the Asan Barrage in 1967 resulted in siltation above the dam wall, which helped to create some of the Site’s bird-friendly habitats.
These habitats support 330 species of birds including the critically endangered red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and Baer’s pochard (Aythya baeri). More than 1% of the biogeographical populations of two waterbird species have been recorded, these being red-crested pochard (Netta rufina) and ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea). Other non-avian species present include 49 fish species, one of these being the endangered Putitor mahseer (Tor putitora). Fish use the site for feeding, migration and spawning.
As well as this support for biodiversity and the hydro-electricity production of the Barrage, the Site’s role in maintaining hydrological regimes is important.