Osama is dead, but will the cranes fly again?

Now that Osama bin Laden is dead, will
America allow Afghanistan to lick its wounds and restore its natural heritage? 

In India, the wintering Siberian Crane has been missing in action for nearly a decade
Afghanistan has always suffered for its place on the map. For millennia, before traders discovered
the Silk Route across the Hindu Kush mountains through the Khyber
Pass into the riparian plains of the Punjab, before the armies of
invaders from Persia thundered into the Indian subcontinent, and
before Russians and Americans overran the land in pursuit of
mercenary friends-turned-foes, Siberian Cranes flew unmolested over
these vast natural barriers to their wintering grounds in India.
Though migrating birds have been traditionally hunted in these parts,
the outbreak of relentless war has so disturbed their passage that
the critically endangered Siberian Cranes have not visited their
ritual haunts in Bharatpur, India since 2002.

Of the migratory crane species, the
Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) has the longest travel
route. They are known to use three distinct migration flyways to
their wintering grounds. Of the three surviving populations, birds in
western Siberia that winter in northern Iran use the Western Flyway,
and those that winter in India use the Central Flyway. The third
route, the Eastern Flyway, is used by a breeding population in
northeastern Siberia to migrate to Poyang Lake in China. The Western
and Central Flyways intersect in Russia and parts of Kazakhstan.

Birds using the Central Flyway
traditionally migrated over a distance of 5,000 km from western
Siberia through the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan,
Afghanistan and Pakistan to wintering grounds that once spanned most
of northern India including parts of Bihar. The Keoladeo Ghana bird
sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, was a well-documented wintering
ground of the cranes. Cranes are sensitive to disturbance and over
time, as war games intensified in the territories along the cranes’
Western Flyway, the numbers of Siberian Cranes migrating into India
dropped alarmingly. The birds were denied opportunity
to descend to their traditional resting and feeding grounds en route
to their final wintering destination. The last pair was recorded at
Bharatpur in 2002.

Heedless of political boundaries, wintering Siberian Cranes flew 5,000 km to their destinations along routes that traversed several nations
The Cold War warmed up in Afghanistan
when America armed Mujahideen fighters with nearly $40 billion in
weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missile launchers called Stingers, in order to weaken the Soviet Union’s hold in the region.
After the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of Soviet power
centres in the Kremlin, the weapons remained with the mercenary fighters who changed
sides at will in the decades of civil war that followed.

The southeastern part of Afghanistan
was once covered with lush forests irrigated by monsoon rains. Less
than two percent of those forests remain. In recent years, large
parts of Afghanistan have been controlled by Taliban militia who,
apart from committing humanitarian atrocities, also denuded the land
of its forests. While the Taliban-supported timber mafia pillaged
most standing forests for the Pakistan market, military bombings have ruined
the remaining tracts. Hazardous pollutants from the explosives,
including depleted uranium from anti-tank missiles, pose grave threats to the continued survival of humans and wildlife in the region. Fears are even
raised of uranium dust being blown into rivers by windstorms.
Depleted uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years and clearly the
problems of war are not about to go away in a hurry.

After 9/11 the US administration, in
pursuit of Al Qaeda, bombed Afghanistan without relent. It is
ludicrous to imagine that thoughts of the country’s wildlife and
environment even troubled policymakers during heated discussions in
the interest of US national security. With the reported killing of Al
Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, America has exacted
more than its pound of flesh. 

What, now, will become of Afghanistan?
Will the bombings continue? A part of me wonders hopefully: Why can’t
America, as part of its much-publicised rebuilding efforts, take
stewardship of Afghanistan’s ecology and allow nature to work her
rescuscitating magic?

Will the Siberian Cranes arrive in India by the Central Flyway again? I’m just being a foolish
optimist, listening for the rush of the wind in wings of hope.




  • Beej

    Founder-editor of The Green Ogre, Beej began this blog as a solo writing project in 2006. A communications professional, he has worked as a corporate storyteller, journalist, travel writer, cartoonist and photo-blogger. He was formerly the founder-editor of Yahoo India's travel site.

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