<p>The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), founded in 1883, and one of the oldest environmental non-governmental organisations in India, can well consider itself the spiritual home of ornithological research and conservation in India. From Salim Ali and Humayun Abdulali to, more recently, the late Ravi Sankaran, the BNHS has produced and nurtured many ornithologists in this country. Asad Rahmani, who is part of this great tradition, offers another, in a long line of bird books from this organisation, detailed account of birds in India.
Threatened Birds of India: Their Conservation Requirements is a near-1,000-page volume dedicated to 150 species of birds in India, classified as “critically endangered”, “endangered”, “vulnerable” and “near-threatened” in the IUCN Red List. Each species’ account is remarkably detailed and contains information on field characters, distribution, ecology, threats, conservation and recommendations. Each account is accompanied by photographs of the species and, in many cases, of the habitat.
The distribution maps are outstanding. There are polygon maps that show the general distribution of the species, maps showing verifiable site records and a combination of the two. These maps provide an invaluable account of the known distribution or occurrence of these threatened species and can serve as a baseline for the future. Mr Rahmani credits his colleagues Mohit Kalra and Noor Khan with producing maps for all the species.
There are numerous boxes with notes on taxonomy, on behaviour (often with an image and quotes from well-known ornithologists), and on the etymology of the Latin name. Many chapters also provide historical information about the species or their conservation status. In addition, for several species, biologists or researchers working on those taxa are listed as species experts (sometimes with a photograph), which can be immensely useful for other ornithologists who want to pursue research on those species. Taken together, these little elements make each account entertaining and informative.
The book begins with an introduction by Mr Rahmani. He describes how the idea originated from BirdLife International’s two-volume Threatened Birds of Asia. A large number of contributors and data sources were used in compiling this volume, and the author carefully documents how each species’ account was put together.
The chapters have been vetted by ornithologists and researchers, duly acknowledged, which lends credibility to the book. Additional notes follow on the compilation of species lists and the treatment of taxonomic uncertainty.
The introduction also has some nice informative tables, including one on changes in the IUCN threat status of over 200 species of birds in India, from 1988 to 2011. Two other tables include the list of bird species in the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, and the list of birds for which India serves as the guardian country. The introduction ends with a series of recommendations and a shopping list of essential references for birdwatchers and ornithologists.
This section is followed by a series of contributed articles on bird conservation in India. There is an account of trade in threatened birds, the status of pesticide contamination in birds, dams and consequent threats in the Brahmaputra floodplains, bird conservation in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Terai grasslands, and the taxonomy of laughing thrushes of the Western Ghats. Although an odd assortment of articles, they are mostly well written; the one on trade is particularly comprehensive.
For Dr Rahmani, as everyone in the wildlife and ecology world knows him, this is clearly a labour of love. He joined the BNHS in 1980 and, apart from a brief stint in Aligarh Muslim University in the 1990s, has served there for at least 30 years, the last 15 as its director. He has also served as the editor of its journal, and of its more popular publications, Hornbill and Mistnet.
This experience has served him well in putting together a compilation with inputs from a large number of birders from around the country. Mr Rahmani is also well known for his balanced views on conservation, and on the need to engage people in conservation work. This comes from the knowledge that threatened birds are found across a wide variety of landscape, not just protected areas. This comes through beautifully in the wide array of habitats depicted in the book.
Though this volume, priced at Rs 3,000, is likely to cater to a specialised audience in terms of personal ownership, the information is sufficiently general yet well-written, and so it should be made accessible to students, young birdwatchers and aspiring ornithologists. More than any other group, birds have benefited from a cadre of amateurs, and this book will no doubt help engage and expand that community. Given that some of the core information in the book (species distribution maps, conservation status, etc) is likely to change rapidly, it would be useful to have an online version that can be updated periodically.
THREATENED BIRDS OF INDIA: THEIR CONSERVATION REQUIREMENTS
870 pages; Rs 3,000
The reviewer works at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore