A fight for flight: Rajasthan's state bird Great Indian Bustard

Once in the running to be crowned the national bird, the GIB’s numbers are fast dwindling.
Rajasthan's state bird Great Indian Bustard (Photo  Dr Sumit Dookia)
Rajasthan's state bird Great Indian Bustard (Photo Dr Sumit Dookia)

Parth Jagani, a farmer in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, can never forget his first tryst with the Great Indian Bustard (GIB). “It was June 1990. I was walking with my grandfather on the banks of the Gadisar Lake when I saw my first GIB—standing almost a meter tall with a white and brown body and a tuft of black on its head. My grandfather told me it was the Godawan, Rajasthan’s state bird,” recalls the 39-year-old.

Once in the running to be crowned the national bird, the GIB’s numbers are fast dwindling. In the last official census, conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in 2018, the population of the critically endangered species was just 150—128 in Rajasthan and the rest in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Arunachal Pradesh.

Parth Jagani
Parth Jagani

In Rajasthan, where the bird is found in a 60-km radius between Jaisalmer and Pokhran, Jagani is one of the locals helping the Ecology, Rural Development & Sustainability (ERDS) Foundation educate farmers about the need to conserve the species by collecting data on its movements, especially in unprotected areas.

A few villages away from Jagani, lives Radheshyam Pemani Bishnoi, who also works with the foundation on rescue and anti-poaching. “I help create awareness about how the GIB is helpful to the farmer because it eats small snakes, locusts, scorpions and insects. Conserving the bird is our duty,” says the resident of the Dholiya village near Pokhran. He is also pushing for reducing the use of chemical insecticides, which kill the GIB’s food source.

Dr Sumit Dookia, faculty, GGS Indraprastha University, New Delhi, and Honorary Scientific Advisor, ERDS Foundation, works with people like Jagani and Bishnoi in Jaisalmer as part of the community outreach initiatives. “The city has an edge in conservation efforts, since there is no breeding of GIBs outside it. The Godawan in other parts of Rajasthan are too old to reproduce,” he says.

Over 80 percent of GIB’s habitat is outside protected areas, owned by local communities. In Jaisalmer too, farmers own large tracts of land and a large part of it remains unused for agriculture. “I ask them to develop grasslands using native grass and plants on lands, which are not used for agriculture. This helps the GIB to survive,” says Jagani.

Bishnoi’s efforts in Pokhran are finally bearing fruit. The WII, state forest department and Government of India have developed a breeding centre in Ramdevra in Pokhran, where GIB eggs are collected from the wild and artificially hatched. The centre boasts 22 birds at present, a marked rise over the last couple of years. “Hopefully, when the survey happens again, the number of GIBs would have increased,” says Bishnoi.

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