International experts visit Desert National Park

3 months ago 0
Posted in: From WCS-India

Feb 18-21: WCS-India and Rajasthan Forest department facilitated a visit of international experts to assess the habitat status, consider existing conservation efforts and identify immediate interventions with the goal to help recover the population of the Great Indian Bustard in the state. The experts are Dr. Nigel Collar (chairperson of IUCN Bustard Expert committee) and Dr. Paul Donald from Birdlife International. Accompanying them are WCS-India’s country director Prakriti Srivastava and other staff members, and an expert from BNHS.

Experts at the Desert National Park © H S Sathya Chandra Sagar

Senior officials of Rajasthan Forest department including Mr. C. S. Ratnasamy, PCCF and HOFF, Dr. G.V. Reddy, PCCF, TREE,  Mr. Arindam Tomar, CWW, Mr, Arijit Banerjee, APCCF Forest protection, Mr. Priyaranjan, CCF Jodhpur, and Mr. Ashok Mahariya, DCF WL Jaisalmer have initiated efforts to save the last remaining population of GIBs in Rajasthan on a war-footing. The current trip of experts is in continuance of these efforts.

The Great Indian Bustard, Ardeotis nigriceps, is a charismatic flagship species of the grassland ecosystems in India and Pakistan. It was once in the running for the tag of the National Bird of India but today the species grimly stands at the brink of extinction. The last estimates suggest a population of nearly 170 adult birds across its distribution range, with Rajasthan holding the single-largest viable population in India. As a result of this precarious status and continued shrinking of the GIB’s habitat, the species is classified as Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List.

GIB sighted at the Desert National Park © H S Sathya Chandra Sagar

While efforts have been taken, multiple challenges still exist. In addition to widespread degradation of grasslands, collision with power lines and wind turbines have emerged as major threats. Protected Areas would provide better chances of survival of the GIB but they are faced with challenges including increasing predation by feral dogs, disturbance by cattle and people, and invasion of grasslands by Prosopis sp. and other scrub flora. The life-history traits and specific requirements over a large landscape inherently make conservation of the GIB a challenge. Specific life history traits of GIB, site-fidelity and inherently low density of its population make its conservation further challenging.

The Desert National Park and the adjoining eco-sensitive zone known as the GIB Arc provides the best (perhaps, the only) chances of recovery for the GIB population in India. The GIB Arc, which extends north of DNP to east around the cities of Pokhran and Ramdevra, includes a field firing range of Indian Army which provides large swathes of undisturbed grasslands to the GIBs in this landscape.

Desert National Park © H S Sathya Chandra Sagar

The team comprising international experts visited different parts of the Desert National Park to assess the current situation and take stock of the on-going conservation measures. In addition, interactions with the frontline staff, as well as villagers in the landscape, are also being undertaken to understand the socio-ecological factors that are driving the decline in GIB population. A visit is also being made to the predator-proof enclosures around Indian Army’s Field-Testing Range near Pokhran. This prohibited area extends over a large area and harbors a larger proportion of GIB population currently remaining in Rajasthan.

On the first two days, the team visited the northern sectors of Desert National Park and parts of the field firing range near Pokhran, delighted by sightings of GIBs as well as other species including Indian Desert Cat, Desert Fox, Sandgrouse in DNP.

The Rajasthan Forest Department has been kind enough to take the team to the predator-proof enclosures created to protect GIBs and their grassland habitats. In coming days, the team will be meeting with the senior officials and other stakeholders to prioritise interventions to help recover the dwindling GIB population and revive its habitats in Rajasthan.

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