SUBJECT :The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is a majestic avian species that finds its home in the Indian subcontinent. Standing over about over 1 m in height, with an average weight of 18 kg for an adult bird, the GIB is the heaviest bird on the planet that can fly. 

April 28, 2019

By - Saikat k Basu

The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is a majestic avian species that finds its home in the Indian subcontinent.  Standing over about over 1 m in height, with an average weight of 18 kg for an adult bird, the GIB is the heaviest bird on the planet that can fly. In India, the GIB habitats are currently restricted to the states off Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The species is reported to migrate between Western India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, due to a number of anthropogenic as well as national factors, the GIB has been declared as a critically endangered species, seriously threatened with extinction by IUCN. The latest 2018 census status report on GIBs indicates that only 150 individuals are surviving in the wild!

The factors impacting GIP populations in all the Indian states include rapid loss and destruction of natural habitats, habitat fragmentation, uncontrolled anthropogenic or natural grass fires; as well as predation on GIB nest, eggs and chicks and adult birds by local raptors, feral cats and dogs, jackals, foxes, wild cats, coyotes, hyenas, snakes, rats and other predatory species. Furthermore, there are reports of a number of birds being killed every year as they migrate to Pakistan; where there is little or no protection available for the birds from rampart poaching. Changes in the land use patterns and expansion of agriculture deep inside the GIB natural habitats have negatively impacted their population too due to anthropogenic pressures. Several reports of accidental and deliberate poisoning of the birds have been also reported due to over application of pesticides in the fields and for using poison baits to kill the birds by farmers to reduce crop loss. However, the most dreadful aspect of the GIB declines are attributed to the helpless birds colliding against high tension power lines and wind turbines during their flights that have been built across their habitats killing them mercilessly in large numbers.

Of course tracking the birds and following their migratory path integrated with their census number would certainly provide a reach dataset that can significantly contribute towards their future conservation policy. However, it is important to note that the number in the wild has dwindle so low that unless significant steps are taken to increase or multiply their numbers, the tracking strategy may prove to be completely futile in the long run. One of the best and time tested effort that needs to be incorporated without failure is comprehensive captive breeding programs in all the stares with GIB habitats like Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Without a successful captive breeding program and their re-introduction into their wild habitats, it will be not be possible to sustain a species with numbers as low as 150 as per the last census. To conservationists the species is hanging between survival and extinction at a make or break point. Selective breeding done under trained and professional supervision in specially designed breeding and reintroduction centres could serve as an important starting point in saving the species from the brink of extinction.

Both local and international reports suggest that the government of India in association with the state governments harbouring GIB habitats is working towards developing a comprehensive policy interviewing power transmission lines traversing across sensitive habitats and win turbine mills. It has been decided that birthday voters will be placed on the electrical installations on high tension lines to protect the birds from being electrocuted. Similarly tips of the fans in wind turbines are to be painted orange to warn the birds from colliding into them. Furthermore, education and awareness of the people in the sensitive GIB habitats need to be organized to make people realize the importance of the species in their natural ecosystems and local environment. Farmers, power line and wind farm companies need to develop GIB friendly practices to help the bird survive in their natural habitats by jointly working together in the race to save these majestic species before it is too late. The forest departments alone will not be able to handle the situation unless all stakeholders join this effort.

Under these circumstances, it becomes extremely important to establish comprehensive conservation program for the GIBs in both Western and Central India. A new initiative adopted by the government of India as a part of conservation measure is the use of radio collar or tags to track their migration to and from India into Pakistan where they are reported to be indiscriminately hunted for meat. Reports indicate that there have been some efforts in the captive breeding program earlier; however, it is much below the need. Comprehensive captive breeding program across its range of distribution is an emerging need for the species with estimated wild population of only 150 individuals. All the Indian states (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka) with wild GIB habitats need to cooperate, coordinate and communicate for facilitating a Joint Conservation Initiative (JIB) with support from the Central government.  We need to act fast with comprehensive conservation policy and strategies before it is too late for this majestic bird species to become extinct like the cheetah in 1951 from the Indian subcontinent.

Source: Sikkim Express