Now a dedicated grassland for breeding

Endangered birds, the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and Lesser Florican, are back in their annual breeding lands in Rajasthan’s Shonkaliya region in Ajmer district. Though the population of GIB, Rajasthan’s State Bird, cannot be termed sizeable the Lesser Floricans are in greater numbers this time with the males among them displaying their plumes jumping up in the air to attract the females in the middle of the breeding season with copious rains in the area coming as an extra incentive.

Six Great Indian Bustard males were reported “displaying” these days around Shonkaliya. The number of females would be more as each male has to lure one of the three-four females to start a family. The nests of both GIB and Lesser Florican are visible in the crop lands. The task ahead for the conservationists in the area is to ensure that the nests and the eggs remain safe and the hatching is successful.

WWF Director for Special Programmes Parikshit Gautam who visited Shonkaliya recently with leading conservationist Harsh Vardhan confirmed the presence of a good number of Lesser Floricans. “They were observed standing on grassy patches, then jumping vertically up in the air, emanating a ‘ket, ket, ket’ call only to settle down almost at the same spot,” he said giving a graphic picture of the lovely bird in its courtship.

“The males’ display-call and drill are to catch the attention of females, which get attracted by listening to the call-notes, to be heard at a distance of a kilometre or so. It was difficult to assess their number but could be around 60 to 100 around Shonkaliya,” Dr.Gautam said.

The Lesser Floricans reach the north-western regions of the country annually taking advantage of the advancing monsoon to breed and raise families at the ‘same region.’ After chicks are reared by end of September, they return to some ‘unknown areas’ in central-southern India, added Dr. Gautam.

The positive development about conserving GIBs and Lesser Floricans in their breeding grounds is a move to use the job guarantee scheme, MNREGA as a conservation tool. In a proposal from Mr. Vardhan, made sometime back when Manju Rajpal was Ajmer Collector, the Shonkaliya villagers will allow earmarking of 30 hectares of their total 100 hectares grass-land area as a “dedicated zone” for the two species to breed in an un-interrupted manner.

“The grazing of cattle and entry of people to the area will be regulated. Grazing will be permitted in Shonkaliya village from November 1 to April 30. In the remaining six months the place will be kept reserved for birds,” Mr. Vardhan, obviously jubilant about the development, told The Hindu. “The entire chunk of 30 hectares will be re-dressed, an earthen wall will be raised all around, a gate will be at place to regulate grazing and manage it to meet the twin-objectives,” he informed.

There are 33 villages around Shonkaliya which were designated as potential Bustard-breeding sites in the wake of an international symposium on Bustards in Jaipur in 1980. Nothing much could be achieved about their status all these days as the initiative was left to the Rajasthan Forest authorities who had neither the adequate number of employees nor requisite funds.

The Ajmer-based forest office has received Rs 8 lakh as the MNREGA project fund for the work which is expected to commence by October. Rajendra Singh and Goga, two forest guards at Shonkaliya, vouch that the new formulae will work as villagers found it to own advantage.