Friday 18 August 2017 News Updated at 10:08 AM IST
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Bustard chicks raise hopes among conservationists - Deccan Herald
Bustard chicks raise hopes among conservationists
Tabeenah Anjum in Jaisalmer,
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Great Indian Bustard with a chicken in the Desert National Park in Jaisalmer district. Anoop K R
Sighting of three chickens of Great Indian Bustard (GIB) in the enclosures at the Desert National Park (DNP) in Jaisalmer has excited wildlife lovers.

Efforts for conserving the GIB, which is on the verge of extinction, are bearing encouraging results. Two of the chicks were spotted at Ramdeora enclosure while the third was sighted at Sudasari area. These are the first free GIB chicks found during this breeding season.

GIBs are popularly known as 'Godawans’. As per the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI), Dehradun, the DNP has 151 such birds. With 3 new chicks, the number has risen to 154.

One can spot the tall and graceful ground-dwelling mother bird near the Sudashri waterhole along with the chick. Brown and white in colour, the bustard is almost one metre tall and has long bare legs and a long neck. Photographers and wildlife lovers sit inside a camouflaged shack specially constructed for them to take snaps.

The forest department officials are elated over the birth of chicks because 70% of GIB population in the world is on the verge of extinction. Security has been tightened in the enclosures to ensure that chicks and mothers are not poached. The sightings have raised hopes among department officials and they are confident that more chicks would be seen in the coming days and the numbers could surpass last year’s figures of 11 births.

The officials’ hopes are not misplaced as their records show that 15 female GIBs are not seen. They feel that they might have laid eggs and might be incubating them. This is what has happened in the past. They say that improved chain-link enclosures that are firmly fixed using cement and concrete do not give access to poachers to enter.

"Cultivation inside the DNP has been banned to ensure disturbance-free environs for the birds during the breeding season. We are closely monitoring the 65 enclosures to check whether there are more eggs and chicks,” Anoop K R, Jaisalmer district conservator of forest (wildlife), told DH.

"Predators prey on Godawan eggs before they are hatched. It takes normally three weeks for young ones to fly. Patrolling in the enclosures has been stepped up to ensure the safety of chickens,” Anoop added.

Many activities had been taken up under the Project Bustard and Rajasthan Forestry and Biodiversity Project between 2013 and 2016 for the conservation of GIBs. Enclosures and water troughs were constructed at different places for birds and other animals.

The central government recently decided to set up India’s first captive breeding centre for GIBs in association with the WII in Kota district, and a hatchery centre at Nokha in Jaisalmer. The Ministry of Environment and Forests sanctioned Rs 33.85 crore for the two centres.

The breeding centre will take care of sourcing of eggs, transportation, rearing chicks and reintroducing birds in the wild once they are ready. The WII has been involved in the census of this bird for the past three years. "A meeting of officials concerned from various departments have finalised points for memorandum of understanding between the Centre, the forest department and the WII,” G V Reddy, Chief Wildlife Warden, said.

Two months ago Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje approved the recommendation by the WII, the World Wildlife Fund and state forest department officials in which they shortlisted Sorsan to be one of the breeding centres. The experts included Keith Scotland from the UK, Juan Carlos Alonso (Spain), Ranjit Singh, Asad Rehmani, YB Jhala and Suthirtho (WII), Valmik Thapar (naturalist, conservationist) and wildlife expert Harsh Vardhan.

Sorsan in Baran district has been selected for setting up the breeding centre. Eggs will be airlifted from the DNP to Sorsan where they will be scientifically incubated. New techniques are likely to be used to ensure that the females lay eggs again after the first clutch. The chicks born there will be released in the wild. Sorsan is the best site for captive breeding as weather is humid. Reddy said, "Usually when GIB lays eggs in the wild, it cannot be shifted immediately to a safe place. Hence, breeding centre will be helpful. Sorsan is good for the breeding and work will commence soon after the MoU is signed.”

Wildlife expert Harsh Vardhan appreciated the concrete measures taken to chalk out a long-term conservation strategy for these few graceful birds left in the world. "About 90% of this population is in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district. It looks like a two-fold methodology--maintaining in-situ conservation of this about one metre tall bird that essentially needs classic grassland habitats to breed, raise family and live with least anthropogenic disturbances. Secondly to set up a conservation breeding centre to increase its population manifolds through scientific inputs in an ex situ manner,” Harsh Vardhan said.

As human management is the main task, he felt more people should be recruited. "Less than a hundred forest employees are forced to administer the entire DNP. Hence pockets are being targeted as possible success. A satellite centre is to be set up north of the DNP as well to cover up egg procuring and allied activities,” he added.

Another conservation drive will be launched on August 15 for maintenance of the park with the help of ecological task force. They have been roped in to develop grassland and increase plantation of desert species at the DNP.

Interestingly, in the last couple of years, army’s field firing range that is spread over hundreds of sq km area north of Pokaran has also offered a new home to this bird. The army has provided helping hand as well and some females have raised chicks in such pockets.

The GIB is Rajasthan’s state bird and is included in the list of "critically endangered” species after its number fell drastically due to poaching and erosion of habitat among other reasons. Population of GIB shrunk to 745 in 1978, 600 in 2001, 300 (2008) and 125 (2013).