Saturday, September 11, 2010

Big Trouble in Maharashtra's Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary

Great Indian Bustard

The Indian Subcontinent is home to many endangered species such as lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, etc. But one of the most striking species is the great Indian bustard. This magnificent bird lives out in the wide open spaces of western and central India, which consist of arid and semi-arid grasslands with thorn scrub and tall grass. It is also a highly endangered species in all of India. The species has been savored for its meat since the days of the Mughal Empire, in turn leading to a catastrophic drop in population all over the country due to extensive illegal poaching. Habitat loss has also contributed to its decline. It has been estimated that less than a 1,000 of these birds exist in India.

One recent case of the downfall in bustard population occurred in Nannaj Bustard Sanctuary of Solapur in the state of Maharashtra. What began as a record of 33 birds in 2007 has now dropped to nine. An annual census carried out on August 29th showed drastic results: two male birds, six females, and one sub-adult. According to chief wildlife warden D.C Pant, no conclusions could be made on what caused the sudden drop in the sanctuary's bustard population. Also, the sanctuary was undergoing the period of monsoon making the visibility poor. He did promise to mark the areas for the birds.

One man, however, who has been working for the great Indian bustard conservation has a different opinion. He is veteran bird expert Gopal Thusar and according to him, the decimation in the population is not a good sign. He warned that the recent sightings could indicate that people have no longer become friendly. In his words, the great bird has only managed to survive thanks to the efforts by friendly farmers living in the region. However, it may seem now that the farmers have changed their attitudes toward the birds. Mr. Thusar also stated that the bustard is suffering from the threat of mines and power plants encroaching in its habitat. He and another partner of the bustard conservation, Dr. Pramod Patil, felt that it is time the state of Maharashtra and the forest department should work together in order to save the bird.

It is very saddening to see a wildlife sanctuary lose its flagship species down to just a small number of individuals. But at the same time, I'm shocked to see that the only way the bustard was able to survive until this day was when the farmers in region made sure the species was kept alive. Now, it may seem that they have changed the way they see the birds. This could be one reason to why the bustard population in this wildlife sanctuary plummeted dramatically. I feel that the forest department should have played the part of helping maintain the record number of bustards, instead of letting the farmers to do all the work. Otherwise, this tragedy would not have happened. But now, the time has come for the Maharashtrian government and the forest department to join hands together in order to prevent any further depletion in the bustard's population. And one of the tactics, according to Dr. Patil, to ensure that the great Indian bustard's future remains bright is captive breeding.

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