Rajasthan, home to one of the last remaining populations of the Great Indian Bustard, has charted out a plan to recover the population of the critically endangered bird. On June 5, the state announced Rs 12 crore-Project Great Indian Bustard, which is to be initiated from this year.
The Great Indian Bustard, one of the heaviest flying birds, can weigh up to 15 kg and grow up to one metre in height. It is considered the flagship grassland species, representing the health of the grassland ecology. Less than 200 birds are left now, of which about 100 are in Rajasthan. For long, conservationists have been demanding to secure this population, warning that the bird might get extinct in the coming decades, in which case it would become the first mega species to disappear from India after Cheetah in recent times.
Till 1980s, about 1,500-2,000 Great Indian Bustards were spread throughout the western half of India, spanning eleven states. However, with rampant hunting and declining grasslands, their population dwindled. In July 2011, the bird was categorised as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Alarmed by this, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) prepared a species recovery programme for the Great Indian Bustard, the Lesser Florican and the Bengal Florican, three of the four bustard species found in India, in January last year. All the three birds have been endemic to the grasslands of India and are on the brink of extinction. The fourth one, Houbara, is a migratory species. While the recovery programme for bustards came after much delay, its progress since then has been even more poor. According to sources in MoEF, the final version of the guidelines for the recovery programme is yet to be printed and has to be communicated to the states.
Conservationists fear the delay in government action could cost dear for the bird. A campaign was initiated last month by several conservationists, urging the chief minister of Rajasthan to initiate actions to protect the bird. “The Rajasthan population of birds is very crucial for recovery programme. In other states, most of the populations are restricted below 10. It is difficult to lead a recovery programme with limited population. The bird is a slow breeder and the success rate of breeding is very less,” says Ramki Sreenivasan of non-profit Conservation India that led the campaign under which more than 1000 people have written to the Rajasthan chief minister.
On World Environment Day, Rajasthan forest department, finally announced its own Project Great Indian Bustard. The bird also happens to be the state bird of Rajasthan. “We plan to spend about Rs 4.5 crore this year on constituting enclosures and securing inviolate areas to ensure successful breeding of birds in the Desert National Park. A good number of birds are also found outside protected areas in Ajmer and Jaisalmer districts. In the coming years, we will spend close to Rs 8 crore at the breeding sites of bustards outside the protected areas,” says P S Somashekhar, chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Rajasthan. Prerna Bindra, standing committee member of the National Board of Wildlife, has also reportedly raised the issue of conserving the last remaining population of the Great Indian Bustard in the standing committee meeting on June 6.