Dhruvika writes on sustainable practices in various sectors for BuzzOnEarth. Get in touch with her at dhruvika@buzzonearth.com. Sometimes she reads her emails too.

It would be tragic if one of the largest flying birds on the planet, the great Indian bustard, goes extinct. Sadly, the day is not much far away. The critically endangered bustard is now on the brink of extinction with less than just 150 adult birds left in the whole wide world.

It’s quite shocking that even when the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the great Indian bustard as endangered in 1994, no significant concern has been exhibited by the authorities for its conservation, and the population degraded, resulting it to be too difficult to revive now. In 2011, IUCN reclassified the species as critically endangered.

A Brief Intro of the Great Indian Bustards

A large bird with a black crown on the forehead contrasting with a brownish body and marked wings, bustards are easy to spot, only if you can find one as only a few remain in the wild. The great Indian bustard relies on a mosaic habitat of agro-pastoral land and generally found across the northern region of India. Prominent in Rajasthan, the bird is also found in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. A few years ago, Madhya Pradesh announced that there were no more bustards there.

Bustard is a beautiful bird with a walk that can be described as both graceful and elegant. It is an extremely shy and delicate bird and lay only a single egg at a time and do not breed until the next season.

The Great Indian Bustard Tragedy

Bustards have a happy past. The bird was so popular in the 1960s, that it was a top contender in the race of being the national bird of India but got dismissed due to its name which could be misspelled and appear embarrassing. But at least, that would have saved its life! Reputation over the life of an entire species might have been a hard bargain.

The Fall of Bustards

There were 1,300 mature bustards in 1970 and now the number is below 150. The major reason for the decline was poaching. The birds were hunted in large numbers and the trend still continues in Pakistan and some areas of India.

Presently, the main reason for the population loss is their habitat loss. The ‘development’ comes at a heavy cost. The continuous removal of grasslands for grazing, mining, installing power grids, windmills, roads leaves no home for the poor bird. Most of the grasslands have been converted to agriculture lands which not only resulted in the loss of grasslands but also in the change of the crop pattern. Their food is also on the decline.

Moreover, bustards have many predators including humans. The stray dogs are also known to attack their eggs which comes in a short supply.

The Voices Go Unheard
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Despite being listed as endangered and then critically endangered, there is still no pause in the decline of the number of these birds. The bustards failed to get any significant attention from Indian government as compared to elephants and tigers despite having a much worse condition.

The bustard was also listed under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and in 2015, a 200 million fund was announced for endangered species- dugong, Gangetic dolphin, great Indian bustard, Manipur brow antler deer and wild water buffalo.

There is even a protected area for the bustards- the two square kilometres Kutch Bustard Sanctuary. But it’s too small as birds are usually big traveller and do not stick to one place for long. The power lines set up in these areas makes them more vulnerable.

It’s clear that the great Indian bustards have 99 issues, but ‘getting-too-much-attention’ is not one of them. The power lines can be set underground in the major areas where the birds dwell. Reflectors on the grids could be of great use for flying bustards to avoid getting tangled. The stray dogs’ census can be kept in check and away from the bird’s habitats.

The solutions are there but not many individuals to turn and pay heed to any of them. Many argue that it’s already been too late for the vanishing bustards. In a few decades, they will be all gone. Sadly, it would be one of the few birds that would go extinct in our lifetime, even before we get to know about their existence.


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