Is the Great Indian Bustard on the verge of local extinction?

Wildlife authorities have not spotted it for the last couple of years at the Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary in Nandyal district; however, scientists at the conservation breeding centre at Pokhran in Rajasthan achieved a major milestone when captive-reared birds bred first time naturally in 2023

February 10, 2024 09:30 pm | Updated 09:34 pm IST - GUNTUR

A scientist feeding the Great Indian Bustards at the conservation breeding center at Pokhran in Rajasthan.

A scientist feeding the Great Indian Bustards at the conservation breeding center at Pokhran in Rajasthan.

The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) has not been spotted at the Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary in Nandyal district of Andhra Pradesh and its surrounding areas for the last couple of years, which is an indication that the bird is at risk of local extinction.

As per records, the migratory birds usually stay in the sanctuary for a few days.

“We have not spotted the GIB in the area. We have been conducting regular surveys to identify its presence. But, in the last couple of years, we have not noticed it. Organisations independently working on its conservation too have not noticed the birds,” Alan Chong Teron, District Forest Officer (DFO), Wildlife Management, Atmakur, told The Hindu.

“It is a critically endangered bird numbering fewer than 140 globally,” Tushna Karkaria, Project Scientist and Veterinarian at the GIB conservation breeding centre at Pokhran in Rajasthan, told this correspondent during his visit to the facility as a part of the Viksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra (VBSY) organised by the Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

“A majority of the GIB population left in the wild is in the arid grasslands of Thar, Rajasthan (about 120), distributed in the Desert National Park and the Pokhran Field Firing Range. The population in the other range States are 1-6 individuals each,” Dr. Tushna said.

An agreement had been signed in 2018 between the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), the Rajasthan Forest Department, and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to start conservation breeding of the GIB and preserve the remaining population through scientific research and management, she said.

International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC), Abu Dhabi, was roped in as technical partner as it had successfully bred other bustard species.

“The GIBs are a slow-reproducing species. They lay a few eggs and have almost a year-long parental care of chicks,” she said.

The conservation breeding programme had started in 2019 by collecting eggs from the wild and artificially hatching them at the Sam Forest Chowki in Rajasthan, which was converted into a conservation breeding center for the purpose.

Uno, the first captive-reared bird

The first chick had hatched on June 21, 2019, and was named ‘Uno’. Eight more chicks were hatched that year and raised and monitored by the team. Since there was no previous record of artificial hatching and chick-rearing of the GIB, these techniques were developed based on the requirement of the birds from the learnings and protocols of other bustard conservation breeding programmes. A total of 29 GIBs were housed in the two breeding centers in Rajasthan.

Dr. Tushna said that the conservation breeding programme achieved a major milestone when captive-reared birds bred first time naturally in 2023.

“The GIB achieves maturity in around 3-4 years. So, the next few years are important as more birds are expected to start breeding. At least 20 breeding females and 5-10 breeding males are needed to form the founder population,” she said.

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