The views of wetland specialists exchanged on the Ramsar forum

Following exclusion of grazing animals from the Azraq Wetland Reserve in 1995, the wetland has become totally dominated by common reed ( Phragmites australis ). In an attempt to restore wetland community diversity, particularly that associated with open pools, exposed mud and low marsh, experimental reintroduction of water buffaloes has been identified as an immediate priority.

We would be interested in hearing from anyone who has used these animals in wetland management in order to share ideas/experiences. It seems they are commonly used, but there have been few studies regarding their impacts. We look forward to hearing from you.

Des Callaghan

Wetland management advisor

Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature

Amman, Jordan

u u u

I found your note on the introduction of water buffaloes to control weeds in a wetland extremely interesting. We have a more complicated version of the weed problem here in India. The Bharatpur bird sanctuary was closed to use by local people despite many protests in 1982. Some local people were even shot at during protests. Anyway, four years ago, not a single Siberian crane came visiting. Everybody went into a tizzy, trying to figure out why.

A few days ago, there was an item in the papers quoting a report by the Bharatpur forest authorities saying that the ban on local people had had a negative effect, since their buffaloes (which used to graze in the park) had actually helped control the growth of the weed Paspalum , which has since taken over the park, and made it difficult for the Siberian cranes to feed. There are reports of similar problems in the Kaziranga national park, Assam.

Anju Sharma

Researcher, Centre of Science and Environment

New Delhi, India

u u u

Please excuse me for stating that it was already apparent in the mid-1980s that it was an awful mistake to ban grazing by buffaloes in the Bharatpur sanctuary. Instead, a regulated grazing scheme should have been organised. I sincerely hope that something is done about it now. In most European countries it is a high priority in nature management to organise well-regulated grazing in semi-natural habitats.

It is clear that habitats that are the result of a certain utilisation (semi-natural habitats) and of great conservation value need continued utilisation to be maintained. I admit that it is often a matter of delicate balance, as we of course should keep our hands off true natural habitats that are protected as such.

Hans Meltofte

Danish Polar Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark

u u u

It has been pointed out that grazing is not a human invention. Animals have been eating plants all the time. Sometimes the animals were assemblages of native herbivores, sometimes they were the livestock of pastoralists, and sometimes, in the absence of grazers, humans addressed the accumulation of plant material by combustion.

It is a difficult enterprise for ecologists to understand the processes of intact and undisturbed ecosystems, partly because enterprising humans have preceded ecologists to virtually every ecosystem, and introduced perturbations. The real issue becomes to establish reasonable objectives for the preferred functioning of an ecosystem, and limit the disturbance to levels that support the objective.

In ecosystems, if no one is eating the cake, there is no way to ensure the cake will remain as attractive, as rich or as satisfying as it first appeared. If you don't eat the cake, you can't have it too.

Earle W Cummings

Wetlands Coordination

California Department of Water Resources, USA

u u u

I would like to add a little to the grazing/wetland debate. Before the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature decided to reintroduce buffaloes to Azraq, we considered a number of the points made and questions raised in earlier e-mails to the (Ramsar) forum by various people. The final decision to reintroduce the buffaloes was based on our opinion that the wetland would potentially be of greater