“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.”– His Holiness, The Dalai Lama
With an estimate of 150 individuals left across the world, the Great Indian Bustard is on the verge of being whipped out from the face of our planet. Over the last century, threats have increased by orders of magnitude which has led to the drastic decline in their numbers. While only 10% of their range remains, India has taken the matter with serious concern and has proposed that the species along with the Asian Elephant and Bengal Florican should be included in Appendix 1, a list of species threatened with extinction under the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS).
The Great Indian Bustard is the heaviest bird of the country with a stalky body accompanied with shorter wings in relativity. Standing at a height of 3ft, they prefer grass and scrub land to feed on their primary diet of grubs, small reptiles and even rodents. Females lay a single egg during the monsoon season which lasts between mid-June to September. However, this low breeding ratio is a limiting factor as this requires extra care and attention when it comes to their protection.
Having once exhibited a population of over a 1000 individuals, the survival of the Great Indian Bustard hangs by a thread, confined to a limited part of the Thar Desert in the state of Rajasthan. The state has the highest current population with an ongoing effort on the part of the Government of India and NGO’s which has resulted in the declaration of the Project Great Indian Bustard at the Desert National Park, Rajasthan. In July 2019, five chicks were successfully hatched in captivity – which were then released back into the wild. The aim is to carry out more successful raising of chicks, in order to release them successfully back into the ecosystem. Plans to protect Great Indian Bustards, which frequent areas outside the Protected Areas, is also underway.
Looking at some of the major contributors to their fall in numbers, many are attributed to activities such as habitat degeneration, agriculture and human encroachment. However, the biggest dangers that looms over the iconic species is in the form of energy projects which include power lines and wind turbines that lie in the midst of their migration route between India and Pakistan. Many of these birds end up colliding en route during this passage resulting in severe fatalities.
Understanding this catastrophic peril, the Convention of Migratory species has successfully included the Bustard as a part of Appendix 1. By enlisting the species under this category, the Convention seeks cooperation and accountability amongst the different nations which includes the species range. Not only has the CMS set up an energy task force that looks at wildlife friendly options at the onset of proposals, it has been working with organisations such as The Bombay Natural History Society and the Wildlife Institute of India which are tracking the movement of the species via satellite. If the above actions along with cooperation of the government follows suit, we might look at a possible renewal of the species in the foreseeable future.