Malaysia: Raptors begin annual migration

New Straits Times 2 Mar 12;

MALACCA: Bird-watching enthusiasts will converge on Port Dickson in a little over a week from now for the annual Raptor Watch, but they are likely to meet fewer of their feathery "friends".

The number of raptors spotted during their annual crossing over the Straits of Malacca has seen a decrease over the years, mainly due to habitat loss and environmental changes, such as global warming.

From the hundreds of thousands during the Raptor Watch, one of the biggest bird-watching events in the region, from Tanjung Tuan, Port Dickson, in the 1960s, the migratory birds now number in the tens of thousands.

In 2010, counters spotted more than 73,000 raptors, and the following year saw the number drop to 57,000. It is anyone's guess just how many will be seen during this year's Raptor Watch on March 10 and 11.

Malaysian Nature Society communications head, Andrew Sebastian, said it was important to note that raptors exist at the top of many food chains and as such, they were especially sensitive to any changes in the ecosystem structure.

"These birds of prey are good indicators of the health of the environment and food chain. For example, the decline in the population of the Brahminy Kite has been linked to the disappearance of the mangrove habitat in Indonesia. By monitoring raptor populations, we can keep an eye on the state of our environment and prevent it from reaching critical conditions."

Sebastian said MSN was also worried about the protection of equally important areas for raptors in neighbouring countries.

"Pulau Rupat, which is where the raptors will launch from Sumatra before heading to Tanjung Tuan, has had some of its forest cleared for plantations. This is a cause for worry, as the development could interrupt the usual route of the raptors," he said.