Destruction of its habitat and poaching are the key problems

Once widely spotted across 11 States, the Great Indian Bustard is currently listed under the category of Critically Endangered birds, in the 2013 ‘Threatened Bird’ list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

There are less than 250 bustards left in the country. The erosion of its habitat is a major threat to the bird’s survival.

“There has been no attempt to promote conservation through the local community,” says Dr. Pramod Patil, from the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

The IUCN list includes 145 birds across the country. Three of the species named in its critically endangered list — the Pink-headed Duck, Jerdon’s Courser and Siberian Crane — are on the verge of extinction.

In Maharashtra, the Great Indian Bustard was seen across the State a few years ago. Now, it has been reduced to only three districts — Chandrapur, Nagpur and Solapur.

The change of land use from grassland to farmland has been a major threat since it has shrunk the bird’s habitat. Poaching is another key problem.

Though the State has set up a massive 8,500 sq km bustard sanctuary, it proved to be ineffective. It was much larger than required and blocked several projects, turning locals against the sanctuary.

In Chandrapur, the government issued an order which prevented farmers from selling their land if the bustard was seen on it. “Instead of reporting the sighting of the bustard, some farmers chose to kill the bird. The government should declare incentives for spotting bustards, not threats,” said Dr. Patil.

According to sources, the State Environment Ministry is in the process of rectifying the circular.

Another Critically Endangered bird on the list is the Forest Owlet, found in Maharashtra’s Satpuda mountain range where teak trees are in abundance. The bird is seen primarily in Melghat area.

“Continuous depletion of teak trees from these hills has become a major problem for this bird,” said Dr. Raju Kasambe, Project Manager from BNHS.

According to reports by various NGOs working in the area, the Yaval sanctuary in Jalgaon district has lost up to 1700 hectares of forest to land mafias. This was the main habitat of the Forest Owlet. “Saving forests is the only way of saving this bird. You cannot have breeding programmes to compensate for shifting them out of their original habitat,” said Dr. Kasambe.

In fact, habitat destruction is the main reason why the birds end up in the IUCN list, according to Dr. Patil. “At a time when land use is changing so rapidly, it is impossible for any scientific conservation effort to go without community participation. Only joint effort can bring success,” he said.

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