Not being successful in the arena of wildlife conservation for years, India has finally hit the right chord by creating a world record for the artificial breeding of Great Indian Bustard or Ardeotis nigriceps.
Once found across the grasslands and dry landscapes of India, the Great Indian Bustard is on a verge of extinction as their number has dwindled down to a meagre 160-odd individuals, mostly surviving in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed the bird among the 100 most globally endangered species.
The Great Indian Bustard’s population declined drastically towards the beginning of the 21st century due to reckless hunting, poaching of eggs, and habitat loss. Construction of roads, irrigation canals, windmills, and overhead power lines have adversely affected the Bustard’s life and habitat.
Wildlife Institute of India(WII), a statutory body under India’s Environment ministry reports an annual death rate of 15 percent for the birds on accounts of collision with high voltage power lines.
It was in 1979 Rajasthan High Court issued a stay order on the sport of Bustard hunting which is still believed to be the largest contributor to the decline of GIB population. Harsh Vardhan, Jaipur based conservationist, who spearheaded the campaign against the hunting, organised the International Symposium on Bustards to take forward the cause of conservation in 1900.
The symposium’s recommendations were to set up an Indian Bustard Study Group and initiate the breeding of the species then. Unfortunately, it was not taken up either by experts nor the Government.
Years later as the threat of extinction was so imminent action had to be taken. It is against this backdrop Rajasthan’s Chief Wildlife Warden Arindam Tomarten is piloting a 10 year-long project to repopulate the Great Indian Bustard. The Wildlife Institute of India, Rajasthan forest department and India’s environment ministry have built two captive breeding facilities, at Sorsan and Jaisalmer.
The team is also helped by Abu Dhabi-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) under the National Avian Research Centre. IFHC has the successful experience of breeding Houbara, a close cousin of the GIB.
Out of 10 eggs collected by the team, nine has hatched through artificial hatching creating a new world record. The nine chicks are reported to be doing well. 7 of the chicks are female, one is male and ninth one’s gender yet to be identified.
When mature, these nine chicks serve as foundation stock for further breeding to steadily increase the number of GIBs available. Ultimately hand-rearing of the birds is not a complete solution as breeding of these birds in the wild is a whole different challenge.
But conservationists are hailing this a step in the right direction, especially ample government support is there behind the project. The news of success itself comes as a boost to naturalists all over the world.