How once in the running to be India’s national bird, the great Indian bustard is now fighting for its survival
In the 1980s, the number of this bird in 11 states was between 1,500 and 2,000. Today, its number has dropped to 150 and is found only in Rajasthan.
The bird, called ‘Son Chiriya’ in Madhya Pradesh and ‘Great Indian Outard’ in English, is known as ‘Godawan’ in Rajasthan and ‘Maldhok’ in Maharashtra. The bird looks like an ostrich. The body of the great bustard is oval in shape, the legs are long, it weighs 10-15 kg, and its height is about one meter.
Despite its heavy weight, the Great Bustard can fly easily. However, it is not as agile as other birds. The bird is omnivorous. Besides wheat, millet, Indian jujube (Ber), it consumes various insects, snakes, scorpions and lizards.
Once this bird was found in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Now he is confined to Rajasthan. Also, it is found in the Cholistan region of Pakistan, which is adjacent to Rajasthan. In Cholistan, this bird is still killed for its flesh.
In the 1980s, the number of this bird in 11 states was between 1,500 and 2,000. Currently, its number has dropped to 150. Once, ‘Son Chiriya’ was about to get the national bird status but now it is struggling to survive.
Why is it threatened with extinction?
Shrinking grasslands, increasing electrical wires, and wanton killing have brought this beautiful creature to the brink of extinction. The prairie is the natural habitat of the great Indian bustard. It is because of the lack of water that the grasslands are shrinking. Ergo, the bird loses its natural habitat.
The great Indian bustard is considered one of the largest and heaviest birds in the world. Its weight, however, is a big problem. Other than that, the bird cannot see straight ahead. He can see everything from the side. For this reason, when it finds an electric wire, it cannot move to the other side. As a result, he gets caught up in the Wire Maze and loses his life. On the other hand, small birds can easily see an electric wire and dodge it.
To deal with this problem, scientists have come up with a plan. They installed the bird deflectors on the electric wires in Jaisalmer. The solar-powered device was hung on the wire. At night, the light emerges from this device just like the flashes installed on the partitions of the road. This helps the great Indian bustards to see electrical wires and change their habits. Thus, the chances of them getting caught in the electrical wires became slim. In several foreign countries, this device is used to save birds.
Bird deflectors may not have halted the death of great Indian bustards, but it did reduce their electric shock mortality by 50-80%, according to birders.
Another reason for its extinction is that it only lays one egg per year. The bird makes its nest on the ground. Therefore, dogs and other animals consume 50% of its eggs.
Fortunately, the great Indian bustard is the state bird of Rajasthan and its hunting is completely prohibited in India. However, he is still thoughtlessly killed in Pakistan for his flesh.
Efforts to Save the Great Indian Bustard
Efforts are being made to protect this friendly bird from extinction. A large number of national and international organizations that work to protect the environment, nature, wildlife and rare birds have started working to save the great bustard. The World Conservation Congress (WCC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a resolution to preserve this bird.
At a recent webinar in Marseille, France, India’s Corbett Foundation presented a proposal to protect the Great Bustard. Organizations, like Aryanak, Bombay Natural History Society, Gujarat Ecology Society, Wildlife Conservation Trust, Wildlife Protection Society of India have supported the proposal.
Apart from this, the proposal has received support from international organisations, such as Bird Life International (UK) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (UK).
In 2021, the IUCN included the Great Bustard in the list of critically endangered birds. To save this bird from extinction, the government of Rajasthan started a project in 2013. The aim of the project was to protect the natural habitat of the bird and its breeding ground.
Scientists from the Dehradun Wildlife Institute of India (DWII) have come up with a plan to protect the great Indian bustard, now only found in Rajasthan. These scientists collected the eggs of this bird and placed them in an incubator at a certain temperature. A few chicks are born from these eggs. This means that the application was successful. According to scientists, the breeding of these chicks will be done, and after that they will be released into the forest. Scientists say the process will continue for 20 to 25 years to save this adorable creature from nature.
According to ornithologists, if the great bustard is not protected now, it will disappear from the country. A similar thing happened to the cheetah which ceased to exist in the subcontinent.
MP plans to protect this bird
The government of Madhya Pradesh has started to develop a reserve forest for the great Indian bustard in Ghatigaon area, Gwalior district. It is a ten year project. To breed the great Indian bustard, its eggs will be brought from Jaisalmer and hatched there. The grass will be planted in Ghatigaon. To protect the bird from wild animals, the area will be fenced with wire; water reservoirs will be constructed; and all arrangements will be made to save this beautiful airplane creature.
Chief Wildlife Warden Alok Kumar said the state government was trying to create habitat for the great Indian bustard found in the Ghatigaon Reserve Forest.
Shailendra Srivastava is a retired DGP, Madhya Pradesh, and President of Citizens for Change Foundation. The opinions expressed are personal.
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