Attempts to give the bustard species a flying start

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Posted in: From WCS-India

The panel on ‘The Final Flight: Conserving Eurasia’s Iconic Bustard Species’ at CMS COP13. From left to right: Aditi Rajan, WCS-India, Devesh Gadhvi, The Corbett Foundation, Dr. Asad Rahmani, The Corbett Foundation, Dr. Borja Heredia, Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Dr. Mimi Kessler, Eurasian Bustard Alliance, N.K. Vasu, WCS-India, Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, Wildlife Institute of India

The Great Indian Bustard has long been Critically Endangered, having disappeared from 90% of its former range in India. A Ministry of Environment report prepared by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) estimated a 75% reduction in population in the last 30 years. The largest remaining population is found in the Thar Desert in Rajasthan. Conservation efforts have intensified in the recent past, yet significant threats to the bird’s survival remain. 

Last week’s Thirteenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS CoP13) in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, saw a side event and panel discussion on ‘The Final Flight: Conserving Eurasia’s Iconic Bustard Species’ to spread awareness about the remaining species of the bird and their conservation through CMS. The event was held on February 20.

Organized by The Corbett Foundation and Eurasian Bustard Alliance in association with WCS – India, the session coincided with the inclusion of the three bustard species found in India in Appendix 1 of the CMS – The Great Indian Bustard (GIB), the Bengal Florican and the Little Bustard, the establishment of concerted actions for two of these species, and the extension of concerted action for the Great Indian Bustard.

‘The Final Flight: Conserving Eurasia’s Iconic Bustard Species’ featured a panel of experts from around the world speaking on four different bustard species – the Great Indian Bustard, the Bengal Florican, the Little Bustard and the Great Bustard, threats to their survival and the need for conservation efforts to be ramped up.

Mr. Devesh Gadhvi, Deputy Director, The Corbett Foundation and Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, WII, Dehradun, highlighted the biggest threats to GIB conservation in Gujarat. Historically found in the Saurashtra and Kutch regions, they have now been contained to the small Abdasa taluka belt in the Kutch region.

Photo Courtesy: Rajasthan Forest Department / Kamlesh Kumar

“The GIB is in great peril due to years of hunting and infrastructure development. Efforts by wildlife conservation NGOs have intensified but are still slow,” said Dr. Dutta. Power lines have been the biggest hurdle to their survival in the region. Under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC)’s Species Recovery Plan, of the three chicks that were reared, one died due to a collision with a power line. Despite this, 26 new power lines are reportedly going to be installed in the habitat. Mr. Gadhvi cited the example of Europe’s success in increasing populations through underground power lines and installation of bird diverters as a way forward for India. “Since bustard landscapes go beyond protected areas, they may not be free from human disturbance. Thus, prioritization of power lines in critical habitats near breeding areas is imperative,” he said. 

“Ex-situ conservation will help but the presence of a safe habitat to release the birds in 20 to 40 years is an impending concern,” said Mr. Gadhvi. 

Mr. N.K. Vasu, IFS (Retd.), PCFF and HoFF, Assam Forest Department, who also leads the Great Indian Bustard program at WCS-India, brought community participation to attention whilst highlighting the limited staff and resources of Forest Departments in covering larger areas, and WCS India’s support in this regard. Other successful community participation strategies were suggested by Dr. Asad Rahmani, former Director, Bombay Natural History Society and Scientific Advisor, The Corbett Foundation. “Graziers and pastoralists need to regulate the movement, and farmers in eco sensitive zones and GIB areas need to be incentivized to promote bustard-friendly agriculture,” he said. 

Dr. Rahmani also shed light on the Bengal Florican, previously found across Southeast Asia, but now extinct in Bangladesh, Vietnam, and ironically, Bengal, from where it gets its name.

The lack of understanding of the Bengal Florican’s ecology was voiced by Dr. Rahmani as one of the biggest challenges to its conservation. “Satellite studies also show that the birds are outside protected areas for 7 months of the year, where huge changes have taken place,” he said. According to him, while studying males of the species has led to robust monitoring, more information about where they nest, how far males and females live, etc. and habitat improvement are needed to aid conservation of the Bengal Florican.

Dr. Borja Heredia, Senior Advisor, Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Spain, also provided his perspective on threats to the Little Bustard in Europe. Close relatives of the Bengal Florican, western populations in Spain and Portugal have seen a sharp decline primarily due to intensification of agricultural systems and infrastructure development. 

Dr. Mimi Kessler, Founder and Director, Eurasian Bustard Alliance, underscored threats to the Great Bustard’s survival in Asia. “A species found across a wide range – Portugal and Spain in the West to Russia and China – it is endangered by poaching and poisoning, collisions with power lines, and incompatible agricultural practices,” she said.   

However, she highlighted the success of coordinated efforts in China by the China Biodiversity and Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), through volunteer efforts to collect and remove poisoned baits. She also mentioned the development of a new action plan for bustards in Asia with inputs from over 30 experts across the continent. 

From left to right: N.K. Vasu, WCS-India, Dr. Asad Rahmani, The Corbett Foundation, Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, Wildlife Institute of India, Devesh Gadhvi, The Corbett Foundation, Dr. Mimi Kessler, Eurasian Bustard Alliance, Aditi Rajan, WCS-India, Paromita Ray, WCS-India, Anil Kumar, WCS-India, Dr. Borja Heredia, Ministry for the Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, Spain, Manish Machaiah, WCS-India, and Kedar Gore, Director, The Corbett Foundation

 

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