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The likely extinction of the great Indian Bustard
By Rochelle Lobo

Bustards are large, highly terrestrial birds with dry open regions and steppes as habitats. The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), more commonly known as the Ghorad, is found in India and a few adjoining regions of Pakistan. They are among the heaviest flying birds.It has a blackcrown on its forehead, a pale head and neck, and grey and brown feathers. It inhabits the grasslands of India, usually arid and semi-arid areas with thorn scrub, tall grass interspersed with cultivation, and it stands well over a meter in height. It is one of the heaviest flying birds in the world.The GIB has a flight range of upto 200 km diameter. Once widespread, the species, today, is found mainly in central and western India.They are omnivorous and opportunistic, eating leaves, buds, seeds, fruit, small vertebrates, and invertebrates.The largest population is found in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan.Lately they have also been spotted at the banks of the Tungabhadra in the SirguppaTalukofBellari District.

March to September is considered to be GIB’s breeding season, they come together in groups during which males inflate and display their fluffy white feathers to attract females. In addition to this, the male inflates his well developed gular pouch and produces deep resonant calls. A GIB female lays only one egg every two to three years and only the female is involved in incubation and care of the young. The mortality rate of the young could be as high as 60% in the first year. Thar Desert is the only landscape in the world that provides viable breeding ground to GIBs. In the non-breeding season, individuals may fly varying distances to find food and suitable habitat

In the past they were heavily hunted for their meat and for sport and, today, poaching of the species continues in some areas. This decline in GIB’s is due to changes in land use patterns of grasslands where the species thrive.The bird is also facing threat from high-tension wires and wind turbines in the Desert National Park(DNP) area. Conservation of blackbucks led to increase in their number which in turn led to destruction of GIB nests due to trampling and this was exacerbated by the use of vehicles in remote grasslands. The rearing of livestock has caused overgrazing of some important bustard habitats; feral dogs also pose a threat. Poaching is a serious issue in Pakistan and some parts of India. Today the small population is threatened primarily by habitat degradation and loss which is driven by the need for agriculture, infrastructure, and mining causing poor habitat management. Changes in the government laws regarding irrigation have facilitated the cultivation of vast areas of dry grasslands. In some places, such as Rajasthan, increased irrigation by the Indira Gandhi canal has led to increased agriculture and the altered habitat has led to the disappearance of the species from these regions. Bustard sanctuaries are being encroached upon by farmland and this has been blamed on ambiguous land distribution policies. Mining and urbanization, including the building of roads, wind turbines and electricity pylons, have all contributed to habitat disturbance.

In early 2012, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, issued a set of guidelines to the states to set up Bustard Conservation Committees (BCCs) and to declare potential breeding areas of the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican and Lesser Florican as Critical Bustard Areas, but no implementation of this plan was undertaken.The state of Rajasthan initiated "Project Great Indian Bustard", on World Environment Day 2013, identifying and fencing off bustard breeding grounds in existing protected areas as well as providing secure breeding enclosures in areas outside protected regions.Recently, Wildlife Institute of India has formed a partnership with Rajasthan forest department, International Bustard Breeding Agency at UAE and experts from Keith in Scotland for the Bustard conservation project which will also involve state governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra. The GIBs will be bred in captivity and then released and monitored for 35 years. Also, the Union forest ministry allotted Rs 33.85 crore for five-year conservation and breeding programme of the Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Since Thar Desert is the only landscape in the world that provides viable breeding population to GIB’s it was with this in mind that over 3,100 sq km of areas was notified as Protected Area and declared a sanctuary in the 1980s. Though the area is known as the Desert National Park (DNP), legally it is only a sanctuary. Now though, the Rajasthan State Wildlife Board is planning to free 1400 sq. km from Barmer and add 1,208 sq km from the Shahgarh Bulj in Jaisalmer to DNP. This is being strongly opposed by the villagers in an attempt to conserve the ecosystem and all wildlife in the DNP rather than just the Tiger and Great Indian Bustard.

The Great Indian Bustard is confined to only eight pockets in six Indian states - Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. It is listed as critically endangered (IUCN 2011) under Schedule I (the highest protection status, Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, it is close to extinction and conservation efforts are proving futile.Regular monitoring of the bird in a large spatial area is required, and also the monitoring of the habitat, to know more about the population trend. Unless radical efforts are made to save and breed the GIB, it may go extinct just like its grassland counterpart, the Cheetah.Community conservation techniques, protected dry grasslands, bigger sanctuaries and captive breeding may save this bird, and otherwise, the GIB will be extinct in the next 5–10 years


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