The Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard or Indian Bustard is found in India and the adjoining regions of Pakistan. A large bird with a horizontal body and long bare legs giving it an ostrich like appearance, this bird is among the heaviest of the flying birds. Once common on the dry plains of the Indian subcontinent, today perhaps as few as 250 individuals survive and the species is on the brink of extinction, being critically endangered by hunting and loss of its habitat. They are very large (92-122 cm) and heavy (15 kg). Males stand a metre in height and are bigger than females. It inhabits arid and semi-arid grasslands with scattered low scrub, bushes and cultivation in flat or gently undulating terrain. It often makes local (and possibly long distance) nomadic movements in response to various factors like rain and search of mate. The Indian Bustard is usually found single, more rarely in flocks numbering over four. They are very shy and wary, running at great speed to hide under bush cover. They squat and rest at times under the shade of trees. The males are magnificent birds and have a peculiar method to attract female by inflating their white throats during breeding season. Usually quiet bird, the male periodically makes a deep resonant moaning and booming call that can be heard for nearly 500m. Another call is a bark or bellow and is said to be made when the bird is alarmed.
Population: The total population was estimated to be 300 individuals in 2008, indicating that there are probably fewer than 250 mature individuals remaining. Population estimates of 1,260 individuals in 1969 and recent estimate suggest that the species has undergone a decline equivalent to 82% over 47 years. Further it is predicted that there will be a decline of over 50% during the next 47 years if no additional conservation actions are taken.
Status: Critically Endangered by IUCN
Threats: Widespread hunting for sport and food is the major cause for its decline, accelerated by vehicular access to remote areas. Egg collecting is a threat in the states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The current key threats are habitat loss, modification and fragmentation as a result of widespread agricultural development and land-use change, particularly conversion of large areas to intensive crop cultivation, irrigation schemes (to convert areas to rice paddy), increased pesticide usage and livestock grazing, and high levels of disturbance. Increases in the construction of irrigation canals and use of pesticides are highlighted as on-going threats in Maharashtra state. Some habitat is also threatened by mining operations and conversion to plantations. Inappropriate protected area management and increasing instances of nest-trampling are further problems. In some areas, the species suffers an increasing level of disturbance by dogs from nearby villages. Threats posed by infrastructure development, such as collisions with vehicles, power-lines and wind turbines, further exacerbate the situation.
Conservation Underway: In India it is legally protected and there are severe penalties for killing an individual. It has been the focus of several publicity initiatives aimed at reducing poaching. Since 1981, extensive fieldwork has investigated its status, distribution and ecology, and a detailed conservation strategy has been published. Numerous protected areas have been specifically established for the species, some successfully, and populations occur in several others. Rehabilitation of grasslands has also benefited it in some areas. The species is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and its hunting or trapping is prohibited in India. There are Indian sanctuaries in Rajasthan (Desert National Park, Sonkhaliya and Sarson); Gujarat (Bhatiya, Naliya); Madhya Pradesh (Ghatigaon, Karera); Maharashtra (Bustard Sanctuary); Karnata (Rannibennur) and Andhra Pradesh (Rollapadu)
Proposed Conservation Measures: Investigate seasonal patterns of migration, habitat choice, and breeding, perhaps using satellite tracking. Continue to survey all states within its range to clarify its current distribution and monitor population trends. Establish new protected areas at key sites. Revise the design and management of bustard sanctuaries, maintaining core areas and promoting traditional agricultural practices in buffer zones. Conduct research into the control of predators, such as feral dogs and cats, jackals and foxes, at sites supporting small population. Assess the strategy of supplementing small populations with captive-bred adults.