Less than 250 Great Indian Bustards exist in the wild, concentrated in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Photo: Hindustan Times
New Delhi: After a delay of two years, the environment ministry is finally moving to arrest the dwindling population of the Great Indian Bustard and put in place measures for conservation of the bird, one of the world’s heaviest flying species.
The urgent need to protect the bustard, which has been classified by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a critically endangered species, was first raised in a meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in June 2013 by wildlife activist Prerna Singh Bindra.
But no headway was made in implementing the programme for lack of funds.
The ministry of environment, forests and climate change is now finally going ahead with the programme.
The decision was taken in a meeting of the NBWL’s standing committee on 14 March, headed by environment minister Prakash Javadekar.
A senior wildlife division official said, “The programme has kicked off but it is in a conceptualization stage as of now. We want to have foolproof planning because Great Indian Bustard numbers are very low at present and a rushed plan could disturb their natural cycle (of laying eggs).”
Conservation of the Bustard is being undertaken under Species Recovery Programme entailing the “in situ” breeding of the bird, according to the minutes of the meeting seen by Mint. “In situ” entails conservation of an animal in its natural habitat.
Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat are collaborating in the attempt, with the Wildlife Institute of India as the technical partner, according to the minutes of the meeting.
“Financial support for this programme is a key factor. The standing committee, while noting present position, requested that the ministry may expedite the conservation breeding programme and also simultaneously explore additional funding support for meeting the programme objectives,” according to the minutes.
The environment ministry is exploring possibility of engaging private- and public-sector companies to partner it in conservation and protection measures for the critically endangered species such as the Great Indian Bustard and the snow leopard.
The IUCN estimates that no more than 250 of the birds exist in the wild confined to the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.
The population has been falling continuously, from around 1,260 in 1969 to 300 in 2008.
Among these states, Rajasthan is thought to account for around 175 of the birds. The population has been dwindling because of habitat loss and hunting, and experts say that if a focused plan is not implemented soon, the bird faces threat of extinction.
“The Great Indian Bustard is at such a critical stage, that frankly, the time to act was yesterday,” said Bindra, a former member of the NBWL. “That said, we can still save the bird, if we are determined and take up the cause on a war footing.”