Out on a cold gloomy morning with the intent of photographing birds, Mr. Raghavendra Bhat sat in his car in the outskirts of Bangalore, waiting for the sun to warm up the day. As the day brightened-up in about 20 minutes, he observed a medium sized bird cross the kuchha road in front and walk into the grass. At first, he thought it to be a juvenile junglefowl, but on seeing the structure of the head, he thought it could be a bustard of some kind and slowly moved the car to the place where the bird has crossed the road. Lo and behold, in no time he could spot the bird and shot two quick frames of its image for the record, before the bird skulked and vanished in the grass. Still not sure of the identity of the bird, he waited patiently for the bird to show up. When it did not, he decided to get out of the car after a few minutes and scanned the stretch of grass in front and then all of a sudden, the bird burst out of the grass and flew far away. Back at home, he was able to identify the bird as the Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indicus). He failed to spot the bird during his next visit to the spot, but was able to spot it again a few days later. This was in the third week of December 2011.
Little did Raghavendra know that he was contributing to ornithological history of Bangalore (and the country!) in sighting the bird which had not been seen, exactly, over a century! The last record of the species for Bangalore was by Lieut. Col. R. M. Betham of the 101st Grenadiers in a scrub forest with scattered paddy fields, on December 14, 1911, while he was out on a snipe shoot with Captain W. B. Roberts of 101st Grenadiers. Needless to say that, the bird was promptly brought to bag along with a Wood Snipe (Gallinago nemoricola) and several Pintail Snipes (Gallinago stenura).
The Lesser Florican, a denizen of grasslands, is an endangered endemic species. Once widely distributed across India the species was quite common. For example, at about the turn of the 19th Century, it was known to be numerous during the “numerous in rains and cold weather in Bangalore” and in fact, in 1879 “thirty birds were shot in one day by two officers of the Forest Department at Malur railway station” located about 36 Km from Bangalore. Since then, the grassland habitat that the species inhabits has progressively disappeared and today with Bangalore having the tag of Asia’s fastest growing city, the last remaining vestiges of this unique grassland in the outskirts of the city is under serious threat.
This species qualifies as Endangered because it has a very small, declining population, primarily a result of loss and degradation of its dry grassland habitat. The rate of decline is predicted to increase in the near future as pressure on the remaining grasslands intensifies. Looking at its declining numbers and disappearing grassland habitats, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has has prepared guidelines for the recovery of this species. These Guidelines for the Lesser Florican Recovery Programme were developed after detailed consultative meetings with the state forest departments, experts from Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), WWF-India and field scientists.
Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'
The concerned authorities have failed to recognize the importance of the last remaining grassland habitat around Bangalore and have destroyed this by planting an innumerable number of tree saplings, demonstrating an utter callousness with which they treat wild habitats and the species that inhabit them. To preserve this habitat, and to save its denizens like the florican, these grasslands should be immediately declared a protected area.