Great Indian Bustard, White-bellied Heron on the brink

The White-bellied Heron, the Great Indian Bustard, the Peacock Tarantula and the Spoon-billed Sandpiper of India are among the 100 most threatened species of the planet and “closest to extinction.”

The Javan Rhino and Sumatran Rhino — considered extinct in India — are also present in the list compiled by scientists of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).The list was released by the Zoological Society of London and the IUCN at the World Conservation Congress being held in the Republic of Korea.

Experts feel that “the list of 100 species, from 48 different countries, are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.”

The population of the White-bellied Heron, a.k.a. the Imperial Heron, is estimated to be between 70 and 400. The species is “known from the eastern Himalayan foothills in Bhutan and north-east India to the hills of Bangladesh, north Myanmar and, historically, across west and central Myanmar,” according to BirdLife International. It is primarily found in small or large rivers, usually with sand or gravel bars, often within or adjacent to subtropical broadleaf forests, says the IUCN Red list.

The destruction of habitat due to the development of hydel power projects has been identified as the cause for the falling numbers. SSC experts have suggested “development of captive rearing and release programme and elimination of adverse uses of riverine habitat” for bringing the species back from the brink.

The habitat of the Peacock Tarantula, found in the Reserve forest between Nandyal and Giddalur of Andhra Pradesh, is “completely degraded due to lopping for firewood and cutting for timber. It is under intense pressure from the surrounding villages as well as from insurgents who use forest resources for their existence and operations.”

In the case of the Great Indian Bustard — estimated to number between 50-249 mature individuals — the habitat loss and modification due to agricultural development have proved near fatal. The “establishment of protected areas and community reserves and realignment of the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project” are the possible measures for saving the birds, it was recommended.

The breeding population of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper of India is roughly equivalent to 240-400 mature individuals. Trapping on wintering grounds and land reclamation are matters of concern for the species.

Hunted for its horn, which is used in some traditional medicines, the Sumatran Rhinoceros has been reduced to around 250 individuals worldwide. The species was earlier reported from the foothills of the Himalayas in Bhutan and north-east India.

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