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The Sarus crane takes flight with people’s help

Safe ground: Sarus cranes searching for food in the wetland of Hargaon in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh. They feed on harmful insects, thereby controlling pests.

Safe ground: Sarus cranes searching for food in the wetland of Hargaon in Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh. They feed on harmful insects, thereby controlling pests.   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Kumar

Its population in Uttar Pradesh has steadily grown since 2013, as wetlands thrive and farmers, fisherfolk nurture their nests

Its numbers pushed to the edge by habitat degradation and human callousness, the world’s tallest flying bird now seems to be getting a new lease of life in Uttar Pradesh, where it enjoys the status of official State bird.

The population of the Sarus crane, a bird distinguishable by its red upper neck and white collar, has climbed to 15,938 as per the 2018 census (summer). This is a jump of 5.2% from 2017, when there were 15,138 Sarus cranes across U.P., as per the State Forest and Wildlife department.

If official data is to be relied upon, the figure has been constantly increasing owing to conservation efforts in recent years; in 2013, only 12,000 Sarus cranes were recorded while in 2015, the number increased to 13,332 and further to 14,389 in 2016.

Sarus cranes feed on harmful insects, thereby controlling pests.

Sarus cranes feed on harmful insects, thereby controlling pests.   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Kumar

 

Towering at 152-156 cm, over 5 feet on average, the Sarus (Grus antigone) is not only the tallest flying bird in the world, it is also India’s only resident breeding crane, as per the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a leading nature conservation organisation that works with the State wildlife department.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has marked it as ‘vulnerable’ in its list of threatened species.

Crucial role

The Sarus habitat is outside protected areas, in natural wetlands with low water depth, marshy and fallow areas and agricultural fields. They play a vital role in ecological balance by controlling the population of harmful insects and have significant cultural importance, while also being sociable. Sarus is omnivorous, feeding on fish and insects, as well as roots and plants.

Sanjay Srivastava, conservator of forests (wildlife) U.P., said the figures of Sarus population show that the conservation efforts made by his department were paying off. But he also gives credit to general public awareness and efforts of locals, including schoolchildren, who share the fields with these magnificent birds, for their “positive role” in conservation.

Anand Srivastava, deputy chief wildlife warden, also stresses the role of local population in conservation. The department “motivates” locals to take care of Sarus, he said.

In U.P., Sarus crane in mainly found in south-west and central regions, in Mainpuri, Etawah, Aligarh, Etah, Lakhimpur Kheri Sitapur Shahjahanpur Barabanki and Hardoi districts.

A Sarus crane nest on the margins of a paddy field at Mainpuri district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

A Sarus crane nest on the margins of a paddy field at Mainpuri district in eastern Uttar Pradesh.   | Photo Credit: Sanjay Kumar

 

However, Samir Sinha, leader of WTI’s Sarus Crane Conservation project, says the population of the bird has also gone up in parts of east U.P., where they have identified 30 water bodies as important Sarus wetland sites.

Since 2013, when the Samajwadi Party government was in power, the Sarus Crane Conservation Project has been running across 10 districts of Purvanchal by WTI in collaboration with Tata Trusts and the U.P. Forest Department. Working through local volunteers (called Sarus Mitra or Friends of the Sarus), Tata Trust partner NGOs working in the area, and Sarus Protection Committees, the strategy has been to involve local communities in monitoring and protecting the bird and the wetlands sustaining it. “It is a result of involvement of farmers and fisherfolk in the protection of Sarus nests in wetlands as well as rice paddies. In this area, a significant number of Sarus cranes use rice paddies for nesting and breeding. So, it could be one of the direct reasons,” said Mr. Sinha.

WTI has been working in Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharthnagar, Kushinagar, Maharajganj, Shahjahanpur, Faizabad, Barabanki and Sant Kabir Nagar.

Threat from dogs

The focus has been on involving farmers in the protection of Sarus nests, as depredation by stray dogs and egg stealing are common threats in the fields. The results have been “good”, as per Mr. Sinha; in the last five years, over 650 nests have been protected by involving locals, with a hatching success of around 90%. “Most of these districts were not considered important for Sarus (conservation) due to less numbers. But, the efforts have resulted in the Sarus population increasing in six of the WTI districts over the last couple of years,” said Mr. Sinha.

However, the threats still exist in the form of not just wetland destruction but also electrocution due to power transmission lines in agricultural areas and poisoning.

As per the IUCN 2016 status, the Sarus crane population is suspected to have decreased globally, owing to the loss and degradation of wetlands, as a result of drainage and conversion to agriculture, ingestion of pesticides, and the hunting of adults and collection of eggs and chicks for trade, food, medicinal purposes and to help limit damage to crops.

Mr. Sinha said that while in general, wetlands are under tremendous pressure across U.P., rice paddies provide a sub-optimal habitat to the Sarus despite the threats from human beings. Change in the cropping pattern from paddy to sugarcane is also a reason for low Sarus count in such areas, he said.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 12:33:37 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-sarus-crane-takes-flight-with-peoples-help/article26100843.ece

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