Campaign Details: Act Now! Or Say Goodbye to the GIB

With less than 200 left, will this magnificent bird be the first mega species to go extinct in India since the cheetah? Or can it be pulled back from the brink of extinction, like the California condor in America?

We are not crying wolf. A survey of recent literature — and discussions with experts — reveals that there may be less than 200 Great Indian Bustards (Ardeotis nigriceps) left in India. What’s worse, this tiny number is fragmented into small populations across several Indian states, making the bird even more prone to extinction. While it is welcome news that the Government of India is working on a species recovery plan, and that the state of Rajasthan has already prepared one, will the wheels of bureaucracy turn fast enough to stop the decline? Probably not, unless we raise the issue collectively.

Already, the critically endangered bird has disappeared from over 90% of its former range. If urgent and targeted conservation actions are not taken immediately at specific sites where the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) still exists, the bird will almost certainly go extinct in the near future. The GIB is endemic to the Indian subcontinent, and, with hunting and uncertain conservation efforts in Pakistan, India is the last hope for the survival of the species. In this document we highlight what can be done to prevent this majestic flagship of our grasslands from disappearing under our admiring gaze. We believe that the GIB can be saved, but it will require concerted and coordinated action by the Central Government and GIB range State Governments, research institutions, NGOs, local community leaders and committed conservationists.

In a recent judgment, the Supreme Court has directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take urgent steps for the recovery of the GIB among other endangered species. The time to act is now!

A detailed paper about the ecology and conservation challenges of the GIB is attached for download. The paper is authored by experts on the topic who represent institutions – Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) — that have been working on a species recovery plan for the bird.

Status of the GIB

The Great Indian Bustard lives in short-grass plains and deserts in large arid landscapes. It is now confined to only eight pockets in 6 Indian states — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The largest population of about 100 birds (>50%) can be found in Jaisalmer, Barmer, and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan where it is the State Bird. Remaining populations number less than 30 birds each. It may be already extinct in Madhya Pradesh — there are no reliable current estimates from the state.

Significant threats to the GIB

  • Reduction in the extent of undisturbed arid grassland habitat
  • Degradation and disturbance in existing grassland habitat
  • Hunting
  • Lack of importance for natural grassland conservation in policy, law and PA network due to incorrect perception on ecological value vis-a-vis forests
  • Lack of protection for many ‘lekking’ and nesting sites
  • Lack of cooperation between different departments/stakeholders in GIB habitats
  • Lack of awareness and support from local communities
  • Livestock overgrazing and feral dogs
  • Disturbance by photographers — there is now enough anecdotal evidence to show that photography of the species causes significant disturbance

What needs to be done immediately to recover the GIB

  1. State Governments must secure and fully protect all ‘lekking’ sites. This may be the single most important step in saving the species. A lekking site is a traditional place where males gather to display and attract females. If these sites are subjected to disturbance or degradation, GIBs may not be able to breed. Even if large areas of potential GIB habitat are protected, but specific lekking sites are not, GIB numbers will continue to be slide. Since there are multiple threats to these sites, such as industrial development, agriculture, irrigation and highways, this step needs political will and cooperation by multiple government departments and local communities.
  2. State Governments must constitute a GIB task force in every GIB state, with a handpicked membership that includes dynamic and committed government officials from different departments, biologists, conservationists, and local community leaders.
  3. MoEF must launch a full-scale ‘Project Bustard’ based on a sound scientific plan, and developed in consultation with national and international experts, as well as key people from each GIB state.
  4. Examine the feasibility of captive breeding by constituting a core group of experts that includes international experts with experience in breeding bustards or similar endangered birds in captivity (the recovery of the California condor, a large-sized, slow breeding bird that was on the verge of extinction, was a result of captive breeding. From 22 birds left in the wild, their numbers have increased to 405, with 226 living in the wild).
  5. Send out annual advisories from MoEF to Chief Wildlife Wardens of GIB States to prohibit entry and photography during the breeding season (Apr 1- Oct 31) at all known bustard habitats. CI believes that even disturbance outside the breeding season can have serious implications for the species and requests that wildlife photographers voluntarily desist from GIB photography.

What you can do as a first step

It will be an absolute shame if we allow this magnificent bird to go extinct. Since Rajasthan has the most viable population of this species, as well as abundant habitat, we recommend that you immediately write to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Mr. Ashok Gehlot, urging him to set up a ‘Bustard Task Force’ to look into short-term and long-term measures for GIB conservation. Proper measures in Rajasthan can make a huge difference to the survival of the species. This does not mean that other states with smaller populations are not important. CI will coordinate steps with other states and keep you informed on how you can participate.

CI’s previous campaigns to highlight the plight of the Narcondam hornbill and the Amur falcon were extremely successful thanks to the number of people who participated in them and the media coverage that ensued. We request you to kindly publicise this critical issue so that we can save the great Indian bustard, a magnificent icon of our grasslands and deserts.

The letter that was written to the CM:

Mr. Ashok Gehlot
Chief Minister of Rajasthan
Chief Minister’s Office
Jaipur 302 005

Fax: + 91-141 – 2227687

Sub: Please prevent the extinction of your State Bird, the Great Indian Bustard

Dear Mr. Gehlot,

I’m writing to urge you to prevent the extinction of your magnificent State Bird, the great Indian bustard (GIB). Once common in virtually all arid areas of India, the GIB has disappeared from more than 90% of its former range due to several serious threats. Today, less than 200 birds may be left in the entire country, of which about half live in Rajasthan. Your state may therefore be the best hope for the long-term survival of this species. Although Rajasthan has taken several steps to create suitable protected areas for the bustard, much more needs to be done urgently, such as:

  • Identify and protect all ‘lekking’ sites where the birds breed
  • Prevent further degradation of, and disturbance to, bustard habitat
  • Foster inter-departmental cooperation in protecting the species

In order to kick start this process, we urge you to immediately constitute a ‘Bustard Task Force’ (BTF) comprising hand-picked, dynamic officers from Forest, Revenue and Agriculture Departments, as well as scientists, conservationists, local community leaders, and committed NGOs, to work under the leadership of your Minister for Forests. The BTF should be tasked with implementing, improving and monitoring the State Action Plan for saving Bustards that was reportedly  prepared by your government in November 2012.

Chief Minister, you have it in your power to secure the future of your State Bird for posterity. Present and future generations will be immensely grateful if you take decisive and immediate action now.



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