With Only 300 Left Number Has Reduced By Half Since 2000
Pune: The Great Indian Bustard, which has been listed as a critically endangered bird, is steadily moving towards extinction.
A global population count reveals that there are just around 300 birds left, compared to 600 in the year 2000 and 1,260 in 1969.
In Nannaj, Maharashtra, the recent count was nine compared to 21 last year and 24 in 2008. Bustards endemic to the Indian subcontinent are seen in just six states, compared to 11 historically. They are seen in Rajasthan (shared with Pakistan), Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. They are no longer seen in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa and Tamil Nadu.
The largest population of 100-125 birds is in Jaisalmer, Barmer and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan. Other places have fewer than 35 birds each. These findings were published in a recent paper, titled "Running out of time? The Great Indian Bustard", of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The figures were compiled from statistics taken from the forest departments of different states. Experts say the drastic fall in the number of bustards brings up the need to develop core breeding areas and a landscape conservation strategy for the birds.
WII researcher Sutirtha Dutta told TOI that while there is no "robust monitoring" of the bustard count, the rapid decline in numbers is pretty evident. "Human intervention like infrastructural development (roads, electricity poles), conversion of agricultural land and hunting are factors contributing to the declining bustard population," he said. "Bustards are terrestrial and low-flying birds.
They can collide with electricity poles or get hit by vehicles. These birds prefer wide, open, short grass plains and open scrubland with scattered trees. During mid-summer and the monsoons, they congregate in traditional areas to breed and avoid human disturbance. In crop lands, it is speculated that pesticides have a detrimental effect
on their reproduction and survival."
The Great Indian Bustards are slow reproducing species, Dutta said. "They have a long life span and lay just one egg a year. There is no telemetry study (useful for monitoring threatened species at the individual level) done to know their movements," he said.
Scientific experts have stressed that there is a need to initiate a conservation breeding programme for the bird. Such breeding has been taken up in Europe and Africa. The paper states that closer home, the bustard haven in Maharashtra has seen rapid industrialization and an increase in human population over the last 30 years.
The shift in the agricultural practice - from monsoon crops like sorghum and millet to sugarcane and grapes now - has resulted in a severe habitat loss for the bustards. Pramod Patil, who works for the conservation and protection of bustards in the state, said the bird's future lies in the proper protection of core breeding grasslands and promotion of traditional organic farming.
When contacted, M K Rao, conservator of forests (wildlife), Pune, said no eggs of the Great Indian Bustard have been found in Nannaj over the last three years. "We are not sure whether the eggs were destroyed. Bustards need an environment free of disturbance to lay their eggs. Grazing and the movement of vehicles and people affect them," he said.