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Afghan Bombs May Affect Birds

The war in Afghanistan could have a long-term impact on the birds that migrate from central Asia to India every year. About 200 species of birds--including the Siberian crane, shoveller duck, crested poacher and Arctic tern--leave Russia and central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and fly to India at the end of October or the beginning of November each year. The birds stop to refuel at many wetlands in Afghanistan during their 3,000 to 4,000 mile trip.

?The bombing may have a long-term impact on birds migrating to India. The chemical contents in the bombs could enter the food chain,? says Abrar Ahmed, senior program officer at World Wide Fund for Nature India. While the migration of birds this season had been normal so far, ornithologists fear the chemicals released from the bombing could enter birds? bodies and affect breeding cycles in the long run. ?The chemical contents will be stored in the fat layers of the birds, making their return journey much tougher. And that could prove fatal,? Ahmed says. ?The chemicals can also be passed on to their eggs.?

Past studies on the impact of pesticides on peregrine falcons have shown that a large amount of the non-biodegradable insecticide aldrin led to a decline in the bird population and also affected their egg shells. ?The egg shell became so thin that it was crushed by the weight of the mother,? Ahmed says. ?If one chemical could have such an impact, so many chemicals can certainly pose a danger.?

Scientists won?t know if there?s a problem until December or January, when most of the birds usually reach their destination in India. So far, two Siberian cranes have successfully made it to the Bharatpur bird sanctuary in the northwestern state of Rajasthan. ?Birds normally come when there is a full moon. We will get to know if bird arrivals have been affected during the next full moon in the beginning of December,? says R.K. Singh, assistant director of the sanctuary.

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