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Bird enthusiast Ashish Loya, in an interview with The Daily Guardian, tells how his childhood hobby of birdwatching turned into a purpose to conserve and protect Haiderpur Wetland with the support of locals and authorities. Excerpts:

Ashish Loya all set to shoot.

Q. What sparked your interest in birdwatching which later made you rigorously document and record various species of birds?

A. Birdwatching was my childhood hobby which began from 6th grade. I used to regularly indulge in birdwatching during my school and college days and also visit Bharatpur every year. But then it took a backseat during my life in New York. Years later when I came to Bijnor for Art of Living work, the flocks of Painted Storks and Bar-headed Geese on Ganga Barrage attracted my attention. Out of curiosity I started exploring the area and was stunned to find thousands of migratory waterfowls. This revived my hobby and I started birding regularly here since 2015. I understood the importance of this area and wanted it to be conserved. I started preparing checklists regularly and uploading on eBird, documenting my findings, hoping that it will attract the attention of the right people.

Q. What can a birdwatcher absorb and learn from spending time at Haiderpur Wetland?

A. Birdwatchers can see a diverse and large number of species in pristine undisturbed habitat. Some are not found so easily elsewhere, like the White-tailed Eagle. Greylag Goose flock is estimated to be the largest in the country. There is a watch-tower, beautiful and strategically located viewpoints and 15km of walking and cycling trails, all of which makes this an unforgettable experience. There are many undiscovered secrets here which they can unravel.

Q. You have been instrumental in conservation efforts to turn Haiderpur Wetland into an attractive abode for native and migratory birds and work is underway for it to be made a Ramsar site. Would you like to throw light on your contribution?

A. For a site to be declared a Ramsar site, it needs to satisfy at least 1 of the 10 criteria laid out. My reports, observations, documents, photos and videos have helped establish that Haiderpur Wetland meets 5 out of the 10 criteria, making for a very strong case. When I first started birdwatching here, I immediately recognised the importance of this place as an important site on the central Asian flyway. I started making a checklist and also uploading it on Ebird. I have created a checklist of 280 species.

I have spotted some very rare species like Penduline Tit, White-tailed Eagle, Bristled Grassbird, and Indian Skimmers which helps to satisfy the Ramsar criteria. My videos and pictures have documented the presence of >1% population of Greylag Goose, Ferruginous ducks etc which is another Ramsar criteria. I was also the first to record 145 swamp deers and otters, which suggests that the wetland supports other endangered forms of wildlife as well. I have observed the breeding behaviour of Bristled Grassbird here, establishing that species depend on this wetland during critical phases of their lifecycle.

I have also conducted bird counts, as part of Asian waterfowl census, national bird count etc and helped tabulate over 27000 migratory birds here. For Ramsar site declaration, we need to have 20000 waterbirds.

I shared my findings with the forest department and made them realise the importance of this place. My pictures and videos awakened administration to the richness of biodiversity here and have been valuable evidence to establish the case for Ramsar site declaration.

Q. What can be done to encourage more children to care about wildlife, engage in bird watching as well as conservation initiatives?

A. I believe children need to be exposed to birdwatching through some programs, like the Art of Living children’s program. They have a natural affinity for nature and can easily take up birdwatching, as it stimulates their curiosity. They are by nature very curious. For the first few times, we need to take them on guided trips, encourage them to find and discover nature. Today’s children are just not exposed to nature so much. I think parents should expose themselves and their children more to nature.

Q. Do you believe that initiatives like organising Haiderpur Wetland Birdwatching Festival will help to draw more visitors and put Haiderpur Wetland on the environmental tourism map?

A. Surely as the festival creates a buzz in the media, it helps popularise the place and brings like-minded people together viz conservationists, nature lovers, experts and newcomers together who learn from each other.

Q. Will Haiderpur wetland’s conservation and promotion of ecotourism create more livelihood opportunities for locals?

A. Yes, it will and it already has. I have trained a few youngsters in birdwatching who can act as nature guides. There is a boat safari on the Ganga river which is generating income for local boatmen. There are a lot of opportunities to develop homestays, tours, local handicraft for tourists and more.

Q. What is being done to increase the awareness of locals about conservation practices?

A. Forest Department is having regular meetings and workshops for the local community. Art of Living programs are also helping in reaching out to the area’s youth and spreading the message of conservation. Also, I provide regular updates to local media on important sightings and developments at the wetland which also helps in increasing the awareness of the locals.

Q. Is wetland conservation an even greater priority owing to climate change?

A. Wetlands are a valuable part of ecosystems, economic activity as well as social and cultural life. Many species depend on them for their survival. We need to make people aware of the fact that a healthy wetland means a healthy planet.

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Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.

“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.

In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.

The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.

Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.

Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.

“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.

“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.

With agency inputs

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12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China



HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.

A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.

Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.

Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI

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Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.

“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.

“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.

“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.

This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.

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The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.

J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.

Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.

Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.

But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.

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WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins



Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.

Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”

He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.

Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.

This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.

Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.

“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

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