Press Information Bureau
Government of India

09 June 2005
  Ministry of Environment and Forests  


  12:19 IST  

The Central Asian Flyway (CAF) covers a large continental area of Eurasia between the Arctic and Indian Oceans and the associated island chains. The Flyway comprises several important migration routes of waterbirds, most of which extend from the northernmost breeding grounds in Russia (Siberia) to the southernmost non-breeding (wintering) grounds in West and South Asia, the Maldives and the British Indian Ocean Territory. The birds on their annual migration cross the borders of several countries. Geographically the flyway region covers 30 countries of North, Central and South Asia and Trans-Caucasus.

A “flyway” is the total area used by populations or species of birds, throughout their annual cycle, including the breeding areas, migration stop-over and non-breeding (wintering) sites. Many of these sites tend to be highly productive and are thus also of importance to non-migratory birds and other biodiversity. In the staging and non-breeding areas of the flyway, the high productivity also enable local people to benefit food, shelter and water.

Waterbirds” means those species of birds that are ecologically dependent on wetlands for at least part of their annual cycle, have a range which lies entirely or partly with the Action Plan area . In addition to these groups, there are other birds also dependent on wetlands such as the kingfishers, birds of prey and passerines. These birds benefit from efforts undertaken to conserve waterbirds.

Migratory species are essential components of the ecosystems that support all life on earth. They play an important role in many local and global economies and have great significance in many cultures. As the pressure on these animal species steadily increases, mainly due to human-made threats and obstacles to migration, many of them are threatened with extinction. The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) is the only global convention dealing comprehensively with all aspects of the conservation of migratory species and the habitats on which they depend.

There is an overlap between the CAF and the area of the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), which was concluded in 1995, at the Hague, The Netherlands. Sixteen out of the 30 countries encompassed by the CAF are located in the AEWA Agreement Area. 


The Central Asian Flyway covers at least 274 migratory waterbird populations of 175 species, including 26 globally threatened and near-threatened species that breed, migrate and spend the non-breeding (winter period) within the region. Species such as the critically threatened Sociable Plover Vanellus gregarious, vulnerable Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis and Indian Skimmer Rynchops albicollis, and Barheaded Goose Anser indicus, Ibisbill Ibidorhyncha struthersii, and Brownheaded Gull Larus brunnicephalus are completely or largely restricted to the Central Asian Flyway region. In addition, the breeding range of some species including the critically threatened Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris, endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmaeus, vulnerable Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis and Relict Gull Larus relictus, and Blackwinged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni, Caspian Plover Charadrius asiaticus and Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus are largely restricted to the region although the non-breeding ranges overlap with adjoining flyways.

Other migratory waterbird species pass through this region on their annual migrations within flyways that connect the northern Central Asian countries with South East Asia and Australasia (the East Asian-Australasian Flyway) and Africa and Europe (the East African Flyway) and the Indian Ocean to the south.

Rapid human population growth and development across the region has dramatically increased pressure on inter-tidal and freshwater wetlands, grasslands and other habitats, which has resulted in their degradation and loss, their pollution and harvest of waterbirds. These pressures have resulted in the decline and local extinctions of waterbird populations. Management and conservation of waterbird populations requires precise and up to date information on populations and their trends. Information on the status and trends of waterbird populations in the CAF area is limited and outdated. Actions to promote collection of data and their analysis at the flyway and national level will provide the basis for improving the knowledge base.


Waterbirds use a wide variety of habitats during their annual cycle, from the artic tundra, forested wetlands of the temperate taiga, forest-steppe, steppe grasslands, deserts, inland and coastal wetlands, wet and dry agriculture croplands, rivers, floodplain wetlands, marshes, lakes, tanks, ponds, irrigation tanks, sewage and waste treatment farms. This continental flyway comprises extensive large semi-arid habitats with a limited number of wetlands, particularly in the staging areas and different groups of migratory waterbirds appear to overlap considerably in the usage of important sites. The large coastal wetland areas and islands of South Asian countries provide good habitat for many species.

Many of the wetlands are situated in areas with dense human populations where they provide many goods and services to the people but where they are increasingly being unsustainably exploited. Thus the management of these habitats requires coordinated multi-sectoral and participatory planning and implementation to realise the needs of local people and biodiversity conservation.

Many countries along the CAF have developing or transitional economies with only modest allocation of resources for research and conservation and for involvement of local stakeholders in sustainable management of wetlands, grasslands and other habitats. In addition, changes in political systems and instabilities in some countries, and language and other barriers have constrained the development of cooperation between agencies and organisations in all the flyway countries in areas such as information sharing, research and conservation activities.

Need for an Action Plan

As many waterbird populations are declining and the wetlands, grasslands and other habitats upon which waterbirds depend are seriously threatened along the CAF, there is an urgent need of science-based and internationally co-ordinated conservation measures, ensuring sustainable benefits to people as well as survival of species and habitats. The call for the development of an Action Plan for the Central Asian Flyway has been recognised by various conventions and meetings.

The Action Plan sets the agenda for enhanced regional environmental cooperation among the Central Asian Flyway states to promote the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats. The Action Plan builds on and complements actions that are being undertaken by national governments to promote conservation. In addition, it builds on and complements programmes and actions that are being undertaken by various international conventions including CMS, AEWA, Ramsar and Convention on Biological Diversity, development agencies including UNEP, UNDP, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and international NGOs including BirdLife International, IUCN and WWF to promote regional and national cooperation and conservation action.

India’s position

India is known to support 1225 species of bird species, out of these 257 species are water birds. India has about 81 species of migrant waterfowls which are seasonal immigrants, mostly from Palae-arctic Region beyond the Himalayas – in central and northern Asia, and eastern and northern Europe. The most abundant and regular winter migrants are the ducks and geese, waders or shore birds and cranes.

India remains in the core central region of the Central Asian Flyway (CAF) and holds some crucial important wintering population of water bird species. India is also a key breeding area for many other water birds such as Pygmy cormorant and Ruddy-shelduck, globally threatened water birds such as Dalmatian Pelican, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Siberian crane, oriental white stork, greater adjutant stork, white winged wood duck etc.

India has developed supportive legislations to protect its resident water birds as well as wintering waterfowls. India also has bilateral arrangements with neighbouring nations as well as multilateral agreements to safeguard the migratory waterbirds, which migrate beyond national jurisdiction.

The National Wildlife Action Plan, duly supported by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 provides legal framework relating to migratory water birds and wetlands. In addition, various other legislations such as Environmental Protection Act, Indian Forest Act, Pollution Control Act, and Coastal Zone Regulatory Act are some of the additional legislations supporting wetland and migratory waterfowl habitats managements. Further, India is signatory to most of the important international instruments on conservation, which include Ramsar Convention on wetlands, Convention on Protection of Migratory Birds between India and Russia, and Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).