In Kashmir’s Himalayan Valley is one of the most important wetlands in Asia, Hokersar Wetland. This marvellous spread of marshes and forests is one of the best places to go if you happen to be in Srinagar and want to see the avian wildlife in the area at its best, for it plays host to far more birds than nearby Dachigam. In fact, records of the number of birds coming to visit the wetland have seen figures of 6 to 7 lakh in a single year, mostly concentrated during the months of October to March. A lakh translates 100,000, which shows you just how remarkable this is, especially for an area that is considerably compact now, with estimates saying it has only about 6 or so square kilometres of prime wetland.
The Hokersar Wetland is merely one of the wetlands in the Kashmir, but it is inarguably one of the most important wetlands here. Several hundred thousand birds coming from all over Asia, from the Siberian and Central Asian regions to the Philippines, actually migrate to this wetland for the cold months and for staging as well as breeding. From Brahminy Duck to Greylag Goose, from Eurasion Wigeons to Ferruginous Pochards, there is no shortage of bird species here, and any birdwatcher shall be sure to conclude his visit in a haze of rapturous contentment.
Unfortunately, like so many other wetlands and natural habitats in the wild, Hokersar Wetland has its own share of problems. For one thing, siltation and pollution have been taking their toll, reducing the total size of the area by as much as 28% according to certain surveys. A vast majority of the water going into the wetlands has been recorded to have come from inlets on the surface as opposed to being from precipitation, and many of the sources are seeing contamination due to human influence while siltation is seeing an uptick due to the flood channels. The widespread expansion of agricultural activity in the area is also becoming a major problem as people in the neighbouring spaces have begun to encroach on what was once an untouched natural reserve. Compounding that is the fact that there have been erratic variances in the hydrologic situation.
Alarmed by the obvious shrinkage of the area, local authorities have been taking action since the 90’s. The Indian Institute of Forest Management, for example, has been working with the Ministry of Environment and Forests to raise public consciousness of the problem, organising talks and workshops for the purpose. The wildlife wardens for the Kashmir wetlands have also put together teams intended to prevent poachers from attacking the birds as they come, as poaching is also considered a serious issue in this area. In 2010, wildlife wardens also went throughout the wetland with tools for cracking the ice that had formed over the pools and marshes during a cold spell that rendered forage difficult for the birds, discouraging them from staying in the area. Nowadays, the Hokersar Wetland remains a vital part of the local ecosystem and tourists are encouraged to take guided tours through it, especially for birdwatching, but are also asked to respect the integrity of the area.