Syllabus– General Studies 3 (Environment)
- Recently, the Central government informed the Rajya Sabha that there were no Great Indian Bustards (GIB) in Kutch Bustard Sanctuary (KBS) in Gujarat’s Kutch district as on January 1 this year.
- It raised many eyebrows among conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts as it had come just three months after the Supreme Court ordered power companies to place their overhead power lines underground in GIB habitat in Rajasthan and Kutch to save the species from going extinct.
About Great Indian Bustards
- GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India.
- The other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican.
- GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10% of it.
- The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is the State bird of Rajasthan.
- Habitats: Among the heaviest birds with flight, GIBs prefer grasslands as their habitats.
- Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other.
- They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc.
GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence barometers of the health of grassland ecosystems.
On the brink of Extinction
- In February 2020, the Central government had told the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) held in Gandhinagar, that the GIB population in India had fallen to just 150.
- Of them 128 birds were in Rajasthan, 10 in Kutch district of Gujarat and a few in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
- Pakistan is also believed to host a few GIBs.
Due to the species’ smaller population size, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised GIBs as critically endangered, thus on the brink of extinction from the wild.
- As per Wildlife Institute of India (WII), overhead power transmission lines are the biggest threat to the GIBs.
- Approximately, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead power lines as the birds, due to their poor frontal vision, can’t detect power lines in time and their weight make in-flight quick manoeuvres difficult.
- Coincidentally, Kutch and Thar desert are the places which have witnessed creation of huge renewable energy infrastructure over the past two decades, leading to installation of windmills and construction of power lines even in core GIB areas.
Why no bustard in KBS:
- KBS near Naliya in Kutch district’s Abdasa block is a tiny sanctuary notified in 1992 and spread over just two square kilometres (sqkm).
- But its eco-sensitive zone spread over 220 sqkm covers most of present-day core GIB habitat.
- The creation of safe-haven for the birds led to an increase in the GIB population in KBS—from 30 in 1999 to 45 in 2007.
- But windmills and powerlines started coming up right on the borders of the sanctuary from 2008 onward and GIB numbers started dwindling hence.
- The population fell to just 25 individuals by 2016 and now there are only seven, all of them female.
- No male has been sighted for the past two years.
- Due to the barrier created by the power infrastructure on all its sides, sightings of GIB inside the KBS’ notified two sqkm area is becoming increasingly rare.
Supreme Court’s intervention
- The Supreme Court in April 2021 ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat should be undergrounded.
- The SC also formed a three-member committee, including Devesh Gadhvi, the member of the bustard specialist group of IUCN, to help power companies comply with the order.
- In 2015, the Central government launched the GIB species recovery programme.
- Under the programme, the WII and Rajasthan forest department have jointly set up conservation breeding centres where GIB eggs harvested from the wild are incubated artificially and hatchlings raised in controlled environments. Till last year, nine eggs had hatched successfully and the plan is to create a population which can act as insurance against the threat of extinction and release the third generation of these captive-bred birds into the wild.
Question- Giving out the reasons for rapidly declining numbers of great Indian bustards, suggest some remedial measures for effective implementation of conservation measures.