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You may never see them again

The Great India Bird Expedition team (from left) R. Mohammed Saleem, Dr. Ravi Rishi, Ameen and Syed Ijaz

The Great India Bird Expedition team (from left) R. Mohammed Saleem, Dr. Ravi Rishi, Ameen and Syed Ijaz   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Conservationist R. Mohammed Saleem has set off with his team on 44-day trip to look for the Great Indian Bustard that may well disappear for ever

“We have just a handful of them left. May be 200 birds,” laments R. Mohammed Saleem. The founder of Environment Conservation Group is referring to the endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB). Hoping to catch sight of the rare bird, Saleem, and his team of Ravi Rishi, a physician, wildlife enthusiast and conservationist; wildlife photographer Ameen, and birder Syed Ijaz, left the city earlier this week on a trip they call the Great Indian Bird Expedition.

Great Indian Bustard

Great Indian Bustard   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

During the expedition of 44 days across South India they will also document the birds of South India. “We hope to spot the GIB in Andhra Pradesh,” says Saleem.“We plan to cover most of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the southern peninsula and document some of the threatened and endangered birds like the Jerdon’s Cursor, Lesser Floricans, and Baer’s Pochard and look out for the elusive, endemic and near-endemic species of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats, and the wetlands.” The objective is to take the discussion forward on conservation.

The team’s first stop is The Nilgiris where the hills are home to endemic birds like the Nilgiris Laughing Thrush, Nilgiris Wood Pigeon, Nilgiris Flower Pecker and Robins. Coming back to the GIB, Saleem, who is also a National Geographic Educator, explains how the bird was once found all over the country. Now, it can be spotted in protected areas in Rajasthan and Gujarat. “To save the birds, we have to protect their habitat — the grasslands. Urbanisation, windmills and power lines pose serious threats to the heavy birds that often injure themselves on the power lines. If they should crash to the ground, wild dogs get to them.”

The expedition has received support from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change; the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, and the forest departments of other Indian states. “Our trip is sponsored by Firebird Institution, Twin Birds, Super Fan and ELGI, who champion the message of conservation. Dr P Durairasu IFS, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, has been especially encouraging. He has given us an introductory letter that will help us approach other Forest Departments.”

Yellow-throated Bulbul

Yellow-throated Bulbul  

The team will cover key birding hotspots such as the Ranganthittu Bird Sanctuary, Pulicat Lake, and others in Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari, and Thirvananthanpuram before their return journey via Nagarhole- Mudumalai- Coimbatore. “We will look for water birds at Ranganthittu and the endemic Yellow-throated Bulbul in Hampi. The Painted Spurfowl too if we can spot it. At Pulicat, there is a good chance of sighting the Social Lapwings, Grey-headed Lapwing and waders.”

Of the 1211 bird species in India, 93 figure in the list of globally threatened birds. “The Pink-headed duck, Siberian Cranes, Himalayan Quail, Bush Quail...we have to save them before they are wiped off.Threats come from vanishing natural habitats, deforestation, unreasonable use of agrochemicals... development that comes in the way of environment is no development at all. It disturbs the ecological balance.”

The journey so far....
  • The Great India Bird Expedition is the second leg of ECG’s Save Endangered Endemic and Key Species trip. During the first leg, earlier this year (from January 12 to March 31) Mohammed Saleem, PA Azeez, Ravi Rishi and Thillai Makadhan covered the west, north, northeast, east and central regions.
  • They spotted, photographed and documented 665 bird species. Six of those species are critically endangered including the Baer's Pochard, Bengal Florican, Red-headed Vulture, White Rumped Vulture, Indian Vulture and Slender-billed Vulture
  • Environment Conservation Group has completed three expeditions across bio-diversity hotspots in India. They have covered over 60, 000 kms spreading the message on conservation and urging public participation in conservation. While the first expedition focussed on endangered mammals, the second one documented road kills of wild species, and the third ongoing one is about endangered birds.

Along the journey, they will interact with birders, birding groups, forest department officials, and wildlife enthusiasts, and also explore some of the lesser known birding hotspots. “We want to stop at the Pallikaranai Lake in Chennai to study the colossal damage caused by pollution and sewage there. The lake is choked and beyond repair. It was a haven for migratory birds.”

Saleem also wants to connect with tribal communities and villages that co-exist with birds and wildlife. “In some of the villages in Koothankulam, for example, the villagers avoid bursting crackers for the sake of birds. They live in perfect harmony. We want to document that.”

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 5:59:38 AM |

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