What are animal migrations and why are they threatened?

What are animal migrations and why are they threatened?

What are animal migrations and why are they threatened?

Animal migrations are truly remarkable wonders of nature, yet nomadic creatures face growing dangers. What drives animals to migrate, and what measures can we take to safeguard their journeys?

History of animal migrations

Throughout history, Europeans were perplexed by the vanishing act of birds during the winter season. Various theories emerged, suggesting that they hibernated underwater, transformed into different creatures, or even ventured to the moon.

However, in the 1800s, evidence of extraordinary animal migrations began to surface. A notable incident occurred in 1822 when German hunters shot down a white stork with a 75-centimeter (30-inch) African wooden spear lodged in its neck. This remarkable find proved that the stork had traveled between continents. Today, its preserved remains are proudly exhibited at the University of Rostock in Germany.

We now understand that birds embark on incredible journeys across the globe to escape the harshness of winter and seek plentiful food and shelter. Every year, birds like the white stork cover over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) as they migrate south for the winter, only to return in time for the arrival of spring. Some birds, such as the bar-headed goose, soar high above the Himalayas during their migrations, while Arctic terns travel from pole to pole in search of an everlasting summer.

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It’s not just birds that undertake these epic voyages. Various species of fish, mammals, insects, and reptiles also embark on long-distance expeditions. The European eel, for instance, can travel approximately 10,000 km over two years to reach its breeding grounds near the Bahamas. Gray whales spend their summers in the chilly northern Pacific before journeying to the coasts of California and Mexico. Additionally, herds of over a million wildebeest migrate hundreds of kilometers in search of water during the dry season in the Serengeti of Kenya and Tanzania.

How are animal migrations threatened?

Migratory animals face various threats that put their survival at risk. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) reports that approximately half of the listed species are undergoing population declines, and 22% face the threat of extinction. Particularly alarming is the situation for fish, as almost all CMS-listed fish are endangered.

The long distances that migratory species travel expose them to numerous human-made barriers and dangers. For birds, these perils include hunting, light pollution, and collisions with large buildings. Shockingly, hunters in the Mediterranean region kill tens of millions of migratory birds annually, while collisions with buildings claim the lives of up to a billion birds each year.

Aquatic animals face threats from pollution and overfishing, while land animals encounter physical barriers like roads and fences. In fact, some wildebeest migration routes have completely collapsed due to the presence of farm fences.

Two major threats to migratory species are overexploitation, which includes unsustainable hunting, overfishing, and bycatch, as well as habitat loss caused by human activities such as expanding farms, cities, and infrastructure. These factors disrupt the natural balance and put migratory species at risk.

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Furthermore, fragmented landscapes and degraded habitats along their migration routes can lead to starvation for these animals. Despite their need to refuel and rest during their journeys, if they encounter compromised environments, they may struggle to find the necessary resources.

Lastly, climate change poses another significant challenge for migratory species. It disrupts weather patterns that serve as cues for animals to initiate their migrations, further complicating their already perilous journeys.

What measures can be taken to safeguard wild animals from extinction?

The Bonn Convention, also known as the CMS, was established in 1979 to facilitate international cooperation in protecting migratory species during their journeys. Parties convene every few years to assess progress and develop new strategies.

Thanks to this convention, species like the Saiga antelope in Central Asia have experienced reduced habitat loss and poaching. Migratory sharks have found refuge in marine protected areas, and albatrosses are facing fewer threats from fishing trawlers.

However, migratory species are still at risk due to climate change and habitat destruction. Conservation organizations emphasize the need for further action, such as preserving and restoring habitats and eliminating obstacles along migration routes.

These remarkable migrators play crucial roles in ecosystems, including pollinating plants and dispersing seeds, making them integral to the food chain. They also hold immense cultural significance, inspiring art, religion, and literature.

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