8,767.70-24.5
Stock Analysis, IPO, Mutual Funds, Bonds & More

Lease of life: Saving the great Indian bustard bird in the Rajasthan desert

Ornithologists in the Rajasthan desert are trying to save the great Indian bustard with successful captive breeding of 9 birds. Most of the bustards now live in the Thar area, with about 20 of them distributed across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 23, 2020, 09.24 AM IST
0Comments
12
Aerial view of the great Indian bustard breeding centre in Sam, Jaisalmer.
It was a searing hot day last June when Sutirtha Dutta and his team found the egg. There it lay, sized liked a small fist, amid the dry scrub and sand.

Spotting that first egg of the great Indian bustard bird in the Desert National Park in Jaisalmer came after nearly three weeks of tracking and observation. But for Dutta, it felt longer. “It was the result of 10 years of advocacy and struggle by a lot of people. It felt surreal,” says the scientist at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), who is helping steer a pioneering breeding programme of a bird perilously close to extinction.

That egg, later incubated at a protected breeding facility set up by WII in Sam, Jaisalmer, is now Uno, a seven-month-old chick. To the delight of the researchers, eight more eggs that were collected and incubated have also hatched. Nine might sound like a small number but that is nearly 8% of the total population of the great Indian bustard. The bird’s population has declined by 75% in the last 30 years, leaving less than 150 alive today.

The captive breeding project — a joint effort by WII, the Rajasthan government and the Union environment ministry with the help of Abu Dhabi’s International Fund for Houbara Conservation — is an attempt to save what ecologists say might well be the next species, after the cheetah, to become extinct in independent India.
13


The plan is to keep adding to this number, till there are about 30 birds in captivity, whose offspring will eventually be released into the wild. “It’s an insurance policy against total extinction,” says YV Jhala, a senior scientist at WII, an autonomous institute under the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Known locally as godavan, the iconic birds with long white necks and brown bodies are native to grasslands and scrublands and are among the heaviest flying birds in the world, with the adult male weighing up to 15 kilograms.



Historically, the birds used to be hunted till the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 came into effect. The law curbed bustard hunting, though it did not eliminate it.

There were 1,500-2,000 bustards in 11 states till about three decades ago. But what accelerated their population decline was the spread of electricity transmission lines in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The great Indian bustard is a heavy flier with poor frontal vision. Unable to see the power lines from a distance, the birds would keep colliding with the high-tension wires.

This often killed them. Add to this the loss of habitat due to extensive irrigation and the growing number of nest predators like dogs, and the name of the great Indian bustard soon appeared on the list of 100 most endangered species in the world by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
14
Power lines have been a major cause of death for the endangered bird.


Most of the bustards now live in the Thar area, with about 20 of them distributed across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

To save the birds, conservationists say the priority is to push power distributors to take some of the transmission lines underground or attach bird deflectors to the wires, and manage nest predators. WII’s studies have found that power lines in the Desert National Park were every year killing nearly 1 lakh birds across species.

“Companies are reluctant to take lines underground as it is very costly. But what is the cost of saving a dying species?” says Asad Rahmani, a former director of Bombay Natural History Society and an expert on the great Indian bustard. Incidentally, one of the nine chicks in captive breeding is named after Rahmani, since it shared its birthday with the ornithologist.

Dutta says what the nine chicks represent is important for any conservation effort. “Till now, in many of these habitats, conservationists were giving up. They said there was no point in restoring the habitat because we don’t have the birds.”

But now there is a counter to that despondency. “Conservation breeding is a long-term plan but it offers something tangible to park managers to make natural habitats ready (for a species they had given up on),” says Dutta.

15
A bustard chick being bred in captivity.

Also Read

Extinction watch: The great Indian bustard species may vanish & why

To protect Great Indian Bustard, Environment Ministry to declare their habitats as conservation reserves

Power companies must consider underground laying of cables to avoid Great Indian Bustard deaths: Government

Great Indian Bustard nearing extinction due to high voltage power lines: Environment ministry

Comments
Add Your Comments
Commenting feature is disabled in your country/region.

Other useful Links


Copyright © 2020 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. For reprint rights: Times Syndication Service