Wings of hope
Dr Asad Rahmani, former director, Bombay Natural History Society, had once remarked, “Something happens to you the first time you see this bird (Great Indian Bustard—GIB), and that something continues to happen every time you will see the great bird, the rest of your life.” Undoubtedly one of the most critically endangered bird species in the world, an energising community network led by wildlife biologist couple—Dr Sumit Dookia and Dr Mamta Rawat—is pledging for their conservation. The Thar Desert ecosystem currently boasts the only population of GIBs in India. The last census in 2017-18 estimated that there were only 129 birds left.
In 2015, Dookia—an assistant professor at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi—initiated a nature guide training under the forest department in which local youth were trained over five sessions of two days each. Their aim is to document the GIB and other fauna of the grassland and watch out for poachers. Most of these youths are animal herders or in small businesses. “Besides economic benefits, a palpable sense of pride and ownership for the GIB has been the result,” Dookia smiles.
The main threats to the GIB are habitat loss, poaching and power lines. For example, the administration sprayed pesticides in foraging area to kill locusts. “Also, though the National Green Tribunal had ordered a ban in 2016 until the notification of the Eco Sensitive Zone, windmills continue to be installed,” rues Rawat, whose Ecology and Rural Development Society (ERDS) Foundation has been supporting conservation initiatives at grassroots level since 2007.
“The GIB needs undisturbed areas for breeding, feeding, and migrating locally and between states. In Jaisalmer alone, it is found over more than 10,000 sq km area. Of the 3,262 sq km area of the Desert National Park, the species uses only 220 sq km. Sadly, there is a lack of coordination between all stakeholders, and no compliance from power companies,” says Dookia. Assistant Chief Conservator of Forests Govind Sagar Bharadwaj believes that awareness is crucial—both about the bird as well as its habitat. “The community’s role as guardians is also important.
The Captive Breeding Programme is like an insurance plan,” says Bharadwaj. But while the GIB chicks are hatching, Dookia worries that their habitat is being eaten up insidiously. “Ownership for GIB among locals and in-situ conservation model is crucial,” he emphasises. The dream of seeing more GIBs in the years ahead is getting real, with the power of the community.
The Great Bird
- The GIB is among the heaviest of flying birds in the world. Average weight is 15 kg and average height is between 90 and 130 cm.
- Categorised by International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species in July 2011, as ‘Critically Endangered’
- A proposed candidate for ‘National Bird’, it was dropped in favour of the Indian Peafowl