Home Magazines Features Critically Endangered – Why The Great Indian Bustard Might Need A Captive-breeding Programme

Critically Endangered – Why The Great Indian Bustard Might Need A Captive-breeding Programme

"We need an urgent nation-wide effort to save the bird from its impending doom." However, the Indian government officials chose the peacock, says Stephen Messenger in the TreeHugger, because they were worried that ‘bustard’ could be misspelled as ‘bastard’.

In the end, the Great Indian Bustard has been afforded the same treatment often meted out to an illegitimate child. Had it been declared the national bird, perhaps there would be greater urgency to ensure its protection in the arid grasslands where it once flourished. Today, there are an estimated 200 to 250 birds left in India. Standing around one metre tall and weighing around 18 kg., it has now been listed as a critically-endangered species on the IUCN’s Red List for Birds.

In early 2012, the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, issued a set of guidelines to the states to set up Bustard Conservation Committees (BCCs) and to declare potential breeding areas of the Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican and Lesser Florican as Critical Bustard Areas. The guidelines suggested that cattle grazing, construction and hunting be completely banned in these areas during the breeding season and also recommended that a five-kilometre radius be maintained as a minimal buffer zone to prevent bird mortality. 

This image of a flock of Great Indian Bustards was shot in the Desert National Park, Rajasthan. Today, there are an estimated 200 to 250 Great Indian Bustards left in India. Standing 36 cm. tall and weighing around 18 kg., they have now been listed as 'Critically Endangered' on the IUCN’s Red List. Photograph by Dr. Meet Agrawal.

Today, the only hope for the bird might be to set up ex-situ breeding programmes. A study published in Conservation Genetics in 2011 suggested that the Great Indian Bustard has an even lower genetic diversity than the Florida panther, Asiatic lion or cheetah, all of which are believed to be at high risk from disease and ecological threats. The authors of the study believe that the bustard could go extinct in the next two decades, or even sooner. After analysing genetic material from egg shells, feathers and droppings in the six states where the bird is still found, Dr. Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India and his co-authors found that all the birds had descended from a flock of 10 to 100 birds.

The biggest problem facing the birds in the wild is that their habitats have been encroached upon for agriculture and illegal mining. Though Maharashtra has taken the lead in trying to secure a small but better protected habitat for the Great Indian Bustard, it is vital that a well-managed, scientific breeding programme be initiated immediately to save the species from extinction.

For the detailed guidelines issued by the MoEF, click here.

Author: Lakshmy Raman, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 2, April 2013.


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