Al­ba­nia’s pel­i­cans re­turn to their la­goon king­dom

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Sports -

WITH feath­ers on its head that make it look like it is wear­ing a wig, it does not go un­no­ticed: The Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can is back with a flour­ish in the Div­jaka La­goon in west­ern Al­ba­nia.

The ex­pan­sive site is one of the most im­por­tant wet­lands in the Adri­atic basin, key for mi­gra­tory wildlife and as a breed­ing area for the large el­e­gant pel­i­can.

But like other spots in Europe, the pic­turesque la­goon has suf­fered ex­ten­sive dam­age at the hands of man and the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can came close to de­sert­ing it.

Now a re­turn in force of the bird, whose wing­span reaches up to three me­ters (10 feet), is down to a proac­tive pol­icy by Al­ba­nian au­thor­i­ties, of­ten crit­i­cized for be­ing pas­sive on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

“The king has re­turned this win­ter,” said Fatos Jolla hap­pily, a 67-year-old fish­er­man on the la­goon. Koci.”From 250 breed­ing pairs in the 1960s, we ar­rived at 17 in 2000-200, adding, “We re­turned to 52 pairs and 57 births in 2017,” he told AFP.

A small is­land of 22 square kilo­me­ters (8 square miles), in the mid­dle of the la­goon, has been cru­cial to help­ing lure back the birds.

The nest­ing sites were raised so as not to be threat­ened by the ris­ing wa­ter, barbed wire has been placed to pre­vent tourist ac­cess, and hunt­ing was banned in 2016.

A pel­i­can was shot in mid-Fe­bru­ary, but the hun­ters were iden­ti­fied and face two to four years in prison.

The re­cov­ery is frag­ile and saw a set­back re­cently, Koci said.” The trend was promis­ing un­til Fe­bru­ary. But bad weather, snow and wind dis­turbed the colony.”Some pel­i­cans have even aban­doned their nests and eggs,” said Koci, who hopes to see the birds re­turn in April.

How­ever, fur­ther de­ter­mined steps are needed to en­sure the long-term nest­ing of the birds at the la­goon, he said.

Chan­nels must be cre­ated be­tween the la­goon and the sea, “which has not been done for 20 years, to al­low the cir­cu­la­tion of fresh wa­ter and oxy­gen ... and the en­try of fish,” the ba­sis of the pel­i­cans’ diet, Koci added.

Night­time fish­er­men, who are de­plet­ing the fish stock with their nets and elec­tric lamps, should also be tracked down and banned, he sug­gested.

BUT FEARS RE­MAIN

Not­ing that 70 per­cent of the Balkan coun­try’s wet­lands have al­ready been de­stroyed, or­nithol­o­gists and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists wrote to Prime Min­is­ter Edi Rama ask­ing him to veto the project. It was sus­pended, but the ac­tivists fear that the halt may only be tem­po­rary.

“It would mean the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Dal­ma­tian pel­i­can and other species that make the diver­sity of this park,” warned Koci.

He es­ti­mated that nearly half of the 200 species of birds in­hab­it­ing the la­goon could be af­fected.

The park’s birds now in­clude no­tably 1,500 to 1,600 greater flamin­gos, said Do­rian Nasi, a park em­ployee.

But their pres­ence, noted for the first time four years ago, may only be good news on the sur­face.It could be down to global warm­ing, which could in time prove fa­tal for the la­goon’s ecosys­tem if ur­gent mea­sures are not taken, Nasi lamented.

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