Poaching of Great Indian Bustard shocks environmentalists

Endangered species:The Great Indian Bustard, peculiar to the semi-arid grasslands of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.– FILE Photo: PTI  

A recent incident of alleged poaching of a Great Indian Bustard -- the State bird of Rajasthan listed in the “critically endangered” category -- near the famous Sam sand dunes in Jaisalmer district has shocked environmentalists who have blamed poor wildlife management and lack of protective measures for the crime.

Some hunters travelling in two vehicles allegedly shot dead a Great Indian Bustard in broad daylight in Sudasari area forming part of the Desert National Park on December 20 and took away the dead bird. A shepherd saw the act and complained to the forest authorities.

While the culprits are yet to be arrested, police and forest authorities have gathered evidence and examined the feathers and blood stains found on the spot. Divisional Forest Officer Karan Singh Chaudhary told The Hindu on Wednesday that a feather recovered from a jeep impounded on the Khudi-Jaisalmer road two days ago had been sent for DNA test after registration of a case under the Wildlife Protection Act.

Mr. Chaudhary said the police were sorting out the data of mobile phone calls made from the region on December 20 afternoon.

The eyewitness reported that one of the poachers had made phone calls twice before and after opening fire on the bird.

An eye is also being kept on the owners of hotels and guest houses in the region.

The Great Indian Bustard, taxonomically classified as Ardeotis nigriceps , is on the verge of extinction and is now restricted to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The bird's hunting is illegal and its number in Rajasthan is less than 100.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has catalogued the Great Indian Bustard in the “critically endangered” category, which is the highest level of threat, in its 2011 Red List of birds.

In a communication to the Tourism & Wildlife Society of India (TWSI), noted ornithologist and Bombay Natural History Society Director Asad Rahmani has expressed shock over the incident and called for establishment of an anti-poaching unit in the Thar Desert which should be active during winter when people come in sports utility vehicles for hunting.

“During my surveys in Rajasthan, I have found evidence of poaching. Many villagers told me that people come in big jeeps to hunt 'Tiloor' (Houbara) and 'Godawan' (Great Indian Bustard),” said Dr. Rahmani while emphasising the need to “redouble our efforts” to save the Great Indian Bustard.

TWSI honorary secretary Harsh Vardhan has shot off a strongly-worded letter to State Chief Secretary C. K. Mathew, stating that the incident had not only exposed the State Government's leniency but also proved that there was a complete “lack of governance” in the Desert National Park plagued by numerous outstanding issues.

Mr. Vardhan said the examination of mobile phone call details must be completed fast and the belongings of Khudi-based tourism operators screened to unearth their possible links with the main culprits.

Since a local village boy was the lone witness to the incident, no one could take down number of the two vehicles used by poachers.

Mr. Vardhan regretted that some important recommendations of experts for rescue plans for the Great Indian Bustard were hanging fire for quite some time and even the MGNREGS work for the Shonkaliya region -- sanctioned in Ajmer for leaving the pasture land for the endangered bird's habitation for certain months every year -- was not making any progress.