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Great Indian Bustard's fight for survival

Rare sighting: Shy and elusive bird

Rare sighting: Shy and elusive bird  

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The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds. Sadly, it is now on the endangered list as more and more of its habitat is disappearing.

A desert teeming with wildlife, including a bird almost as tall as a human? I could never imagine this, till I got the chance to go to Desert National Park near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Spread over 3000 sq km, this Park hosts one of the heaviest flying birds in the world — the endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), besides other wild animals.

It was my first visit to a desert ecosystem, full of sand and stones. Incredibly, this National Park has fossil evidence dating back to the Jurassic Period (180 million years ago) when it apparently had a hot and humid climate characterised by dense forests … so different from now!

The chinkaras

The chinkaras  

My friends and I started from Jaisalmer early in the morning to get to the park. It was difficult to steal our eyes away from playful chinkaras but when we managed we were fortunate to notice the elusive desert cat. As we moved forward to get a closer look, this extremely shy creature quickly dashed into the grassland easily ‘cat’ouflaging. After almost missing on sighting the desert cat, we were more alert when it came to look for the GIB. Meanwhile, we came across many raptors (birds of prey) perched on distant trees or soaring above us.

Long-legged buzzard

Long-legged buzzard  

A sighting

Back in our guest house before the evening safari, our afternoon rest was pleasantly interrupted when a friend signalled to come out and pointed to a spiny-tailed lizard feeding on the shrubs. We noticed its stout tail with numerous protective spines. In a couple of minutes, it became aware of us and quickly ran into its burrow, a hole in the sand. We kept waiting for Mr. Spiny to come out but it wasn’t in the mood. Locally called sanda, they are significant prey for mammals and many raptors. However, due to excessive poaching (some people think their oil has medicinal properties!) they are threatened.

The spiny tailed lizard

The spiny tailed lizard  

Even after such extraordinary sightings, we were looking forward to spotting the GIB. It was almost at the end of our evening safari and we had heard enough bustard tales, but had as yet no sighting. I was quite anxious, imagining how I should position my camera that I could get the best shot of this shy bird. All of us were distracted when our guide whispered ‘bustard’. Sure enough, we sighted one but as we got close, it flew away before I could take a picture. Our return to the rest house was filled with high anticipation as we hoped to spot another GIB. Unfortunately, it did not happen. But, I was still happy to get a glimpse of a species that might be the next bird on the list to become extinct in India.

The GIB prefers grasslands ecosystem to survive (the most threatened and neglected ecosystem). But, their primary habitat is being diverted for industries, mining, and intensive agricultural practices. With a meagre population of 150 GIB’s remaining, we must act urgently to protect their habitat — the grasslands.

The next morning we set off on our trip back to Jaisalmer. I packed my bag sadly and walked up to our waiting car. But soon, the feeling of sadness was replaced by the pleasant memories of the animals I had seen and my new-found love for grasslands and deserts.

Conservation and Nature is a series brought to you by Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group. (www.kalpavriksh.org)

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 7:55:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/fight-for-survival/article26011813.ece

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