Globally threatened Bustard to be surveyed

Help wanted:The Great Indian Bustard seen in the Thar desert of Rajasthan.— Photo: Special Arrangement

Help wanted:The Great Indian Bustard seen in the Thar desert of Rajasthan.— Photo: Special Arrangement  

The critically-endangered grassland species, the Great Indian Bustard, will be counted in the desert terrain of Rajasthan in the second week of February. Rajasthan, specially its desert region, accounts for maximum population of the bird which is globally threatened and listed in the Red Book of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The upcoming survey, being initiated by the Rajasthan Forest Department with technical assistance from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) from February 14, will cover four Rajasthan districts — Jaisalmer, Barmer, Jodhpur and Bikaner — besides Sonkaliya village in Ajmer. The survey and the count will be supported by the Border Security Force, local conservation NGOs and individual volunteers.

The Great Indian Bustard ( Ardeotis nigriceps ), whose number is estimated to be less than 500 in India, is found in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat besides Rajasthan. Instances of hunting, habitat loss, change in land use and urbanisation are cited as reasons for the decline in their numbers.

Within Rajasthan, Phalodi, Pokhran, Baap, Diyatra, Mohangarh and Ramgarh are some of the places in the desert where the birds are spotted. During the previous monsoon good sighting of the bird was reported from Sonkhaliya in Ajmer, where some 20 birds are estimated to be present. The Great Indian Bustard is the State bird of Rajasthan.

The birds are to be counted in the desert by volunteers astride camels. In the 3,162 sq km Desert National Park (DNP), the methodology to be adopted in counting would be of line tangent — from one point to another point, in straight line.

“The Thar desert, especially Jaisalmer, accounts for maximum population of the Great Indian Bustard. It is for the first time that we have included the district of Bikaner as we feel there are good chances of sighting the bird there,” said WWF Rajasthan convener and Rajasthan Board for Wildlife member Rajpal Singh on Monday.

“There is all-round concern over the status of the Bustards. The Union Government also is worried about its dwindling population and the widespread destruction of its habitats,” Mr. Singh noted.

A workshop was held in Delhi last December to discuss the bird and its habitat. “The authorities and experts pin their hope on the surviving population of the birds in the desert region. Jaisalmer alone would account for 80-100 birds.”

The census is also being held in the backdrop of a plan to “rationalise” the territory of the park by excluding certain areas — which the Defence forces and well as those engaged in oil exploration are keen to keep out — incorporating others, if any, after studies. A high-level panel is looking into this.

“This year we propose to hold workshops in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner prior to the commencement of the survey. In a meeting with head of Rajasthan Forest Forces U.M. Sahai and other senior authorities a month ago, we finalised the methodology. There will be more persons involved in the survey, looking for the birds, besides other species like antelopes, foxes and vultures. In the past surveys we used to have 51 routes, but this time their number will go up to 81,” he said. He expects the survey to be much more comprehensive than ever in the past.

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