Monday, June 28, 2010

Great Indian bustard may soon be extinct

Great Indian bustard may soon be extinct
Times of India

It may not be long before we lose the great Indian bustard forever.The very existence of the bird, which was once touted as a strong contender to replace the peacock as the national bird in the 1960s, is in crisis. As its only habitat in Naliya in Kutch grasslands is being converted to agricultural land and thus would be lost for the bird forever.

Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh,in an letter to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on June 9, wrote that the grasslands of Kutch were one of the last remaining pockets that hold promise for recovery of great Indian bustard (GIB).

"Conservationists and researchers working in Kutch have brought to my attention the opening of areas in Abdasa grasslands in Naliya (Kutch), a prime breeding ground for the bustard, for agriculture. I am writing to request you to immediately intervene and prevent the diversion of revenue gauchar land (grassland) to agriculture, and to ensure that the district officials support the Naliya conservation initiatives.If we do not intervene, the possibility of the bustard becoming extinct in Gujarat is very real and high," Ramesh wrote.

He further mentioned, "A researcher also forwarded a photograph that clearly shows the marking for new agricultural plot."

There are 22 species of bustards in the world, 16 of which are found in Africa. Indian subcontinent had six species: GIB, houbara or Macqueen's bustard, lesser florican and Bengal florican, but in the last 80 years, there has been no record of the existence of the Great and Little bustards.Houbara bustard is purely migratory and seen in arid parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat during winters.

A recent study by Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (Geer) foundation had revealed that bustards were distributed over 996 sq km with a core area of 97 sq km. However, only 2 sq km was protected as a sanctuary. The study suggested that Kanothia, Kalatalav,Bhachunda,Vinghaber and Parjau, which are revenue areas, be acquired under forest land rules.

Destruction of GIB's habitat was the major cause, apart from hunting, of their dwindling numbers. Grasslands, the bustards prime habitat, were under tremendous pressure from overgrazing, expanding agricultural fields and urbanisation. The state till date does not have a clearcut grazing policy. If grasslands were protected under bustard protection, they would provide fodder to livestock once the bustard breeding season is over.

| Windmill installation has been taking a toll on important habitats in Lala, Budia, Jakhau and Vanku, Parjau villages. Fencing by windmill as well as erection of allied electric wire networks has caused loss of grassland areas.

ENCROACHMENT | Agriculture encroachment on revenue village land of Kanothia, Bhachunda, Kanatalav, Bhanada and Vinghaber. This activity led to more movement of vehicles and people.

UNDESIRABLE HABITAT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES | Number of grassland management activities carried out by forest department and NGOs in the area lead to loss or change of GIB habitat. TRENCHING AND BUNDING | Many grass or fodder plots have been developed by forest department and NGOs by trenching areas in middle of large grassland patches. Being a bird of flat grasslands, Indian Bustard prefers areas with high visibility. Therefore, these plots result in undesirable habitats.

PONDS FOR MOISTURE CONSERVATION IN PRIME GRASSLAND AREAS | Forest department and NGOs have prepared many small ponds for rainwater harvesting structures to conserve moisture in the middle of grassland patches. These structures disturb topography of grassland habitat.

PLOUGHING OF GRASSLAND DURING BREEDING SEASON | It was observed that some grassland areas were ploughed during monsoon and post-monsoon season for planting better species of grass and their growth. Such activities create a great disturbance to nests, eggs or chicks of Indian Bustard.

PLANTATION OF ANOTHER GRASS SPECIES | In some areas, grass plots for fodder are being developed by planting palatable species in Indian Bustard range.

RESEARCH ON MOVEMENT PATTERN | The birds are likely to move from Thar desert along edges of Great Rann of Kutch and reach open, sparse grassland patches of Little Rann of Kutch and some degraded grasslands in Surendranagar district. They are then likely to move to grasslands of Velavadar National Park.

INVOLVE LOCAL COMMUNITY | Since bustards move over a large area, local communities should be mobilised and involved in conservation efforts.

Bustards thrive in a grassland, scrubland ecosystem. To improve their habitat, trees could be planted to maintain savannah characteristics. Also, excavation of ponds and trenches should be stopped and Prosopis Juliflora, commonly known as gando baval, be removed as the thorny shrub injures the bird.

They are needed to garner support and enlighten people about the sentiments of various stakeholders interested in conservation of the bird and grassland ecosystem.

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