Why in the news?
- Recently, the government informed the Rajya Sabha that there are no Great Indian Bustards in Kutch Bustard Sanctuary in Gujarat Kutch, a claim that has raised eyebrows among conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts.
Great Indian Bustards and their habitats
- Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) are the largest among the four bustard species found in India, the other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican.
- GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10 percent of it.
- Among the heaviest birds with flight, GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats.
- Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other.
- They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc. GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.
On the brink of extinction
- The GIB population in India had fallen to just 150. Of them 128 birds were in Rajasthan, 10 in Kutch district of Gujarat and a few in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
- The historical range of these majestic birds included much of Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunk by 90 per cent, experts say.
- Due to the species’ smaller population size, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised GIBs as critically endangered, thus on the brink of extinction from the wild.
- Scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have been pointing out overhead power transmission lines as the biggest threat to the GIBs.
- WII research has concluded that in Rajasthan, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead power lines as the birds, due to their poor frontal vision, can’t detect power lines in time and their weight make in-flight quick manoeuvres difficult.
- Coincidentally, Kutch and Thar desert are the places which have witnessed creation of huge renewable energy infrastructure over the past two decades, leading to installation of windmills and construction of power lines even in core GIB areas.
- Change in landscape by way of farmers cultivating their land, which otherwise used to remain fallow due to frequent droughts in Kutch, and cultivation of cotton and wheat instead of pulses and fodder are also cited as reasons for falling GIB numbers.
- In 2015, the Central government launched the GIB species recovery programme.
- Under the programme, the WII and Rajasthan forest department have jointly set up conservation breeding centres where GIB eggs harvested from the wild are incubated artificially and hatchlings raised in a controlled environment.