The Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary had 33 Great Indian Bustards half a century ago. Now, that number has come down to three, say forest officials.
"The critically endangered birds are now on the verge of extinction, with only three birds left in the Rollapadu sanctuary," said Venkatesh Sambangi, Deputy Conservator and Atmakur Divisional Forest Officer.
Explaining the reasons behind the decline, Mr. Venkatesh said that a change in farming patterns are to be blamed. "The bird does not stay within the 10 square kilometres of the sanctuary, but wanders across a large area and feeds on insects," Mr. Venkatesh said.
Excessive usage of pesticides in farms has been cited as a factor. "The birds ingest pesticide while feeding on insects. Due to this, several birds have died," Mr. Venkatesh said.
Kurnool Circle Additional Chief Conservator of Forests K. Gopinatha explained that the populations of predators such as cats or jackals have also increased in recent times, resulting in the dwindling of the Great Indian Bustards.
Forest authorities have employed six bird watchers to track the birds at all times. They are also in talks with GreenCo, a leading renewable energy company, to acquire land around the Rollapadu Sanctuary and erect fences.
"Greenko has currently backed off due to financial issues. But they have assured us that they would invest in the sanctuary soon," Mr. Sambangi said.
Wildlife photographers and birdwatchers urge authorities to take up breeding in captivity so that the bird has a chance of surviving. "The authorities must look at the case study of Rajasthan, where the birds are being bred in captivity. This method has shown significant results," said D. Lakshmanna, a wildlife photographer.
Mr. Gopinath said that there is a need to deploy scientists to academically study the bird and keep an eye on its population. "Only with an academic interest can we increase the GIB population," he claimed.
Power lines a concern
Reports have surfaced that several birds have died due to electrocution from high- tension power lines in various parts of the country. The Centre has asked the electricity companies to consider underground laying of high-voltage wires.
Atmakur forest officials have also instructed the electricity department to insulate electric cables and install bird diverters on high-tension power cables.
However, this would not be enough as Kurnool birds are largely affected by pesticides and insecticides. Mr. Sambangi said, appealing to farmers that they take up organic and pesticide-free farming to help in conserving the Great Indian Bustard.