Great Indian Bustard

News Excerpt:

The Supreme Court has constituted an expert committee to balance the conservation and protection of the endangered Great Indian Bustard population with the country’s international commitments to promote renewable sources of energy.

Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) and their habitats;

  • GIBs are the largest among the four bustard species found in India, the other three being MacQueen’s bustard, lesser florican and the Bengal florican. 
  • GIB is the State bird of Rajasthan. 
    • It is also considered India’s most critically endangered bird and is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. 
  • GIBs’ historic range included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunken to just 10% of it. 
  • GIBs are among the heaviest birds with flight and they prefer grasslands as their habitats. 
    • GIBs are considered the flagship bird species of grassland and hence indicators of the health of grassland ecosystems.
    • Being terrestrial birds, they spend most of their time on the ground with occasional flights to go from one part of their habitat to the other. 
  • They feed on insects, lizards, grass seeds etc.

The Committee and its mandate:

  • The expert committee is constituted by the Supreme Court to re-calibrate and relook into its 2019 direction of undergrounding high voltage and low voltage power cables across the GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujrat.
  • The members of the committee include the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India, other wildlife and forest conservation experts and Joint Secretary of the Renewable Energy Ministry and Environment Ministry among others.
  • The mandate of the panel would be to determine the scope, extent and feasibility of underground and overhead electric lines in areas identified as priority spots for the birds in Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  • The committee will also explore alternatives to balance sustainable development goals and conservation of the birds.
  • It could recommend additional measures to identify additional priority areas.

GIBs on the brink of extinction:

  • The Central government had told the 13th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) held in Gandhinagar, that the GIB population in India had fallen to just 150. 
    • Of them 128 birds were in Rajasthan, 10 in Kutch district of Gujarat and a few in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. 
    • Pakistan is also believed to host a few GIBs. 
    • The historical range of these majestic birds included much of the Indian sub-continent but it has now shrunk by 90%.
  • Due to the species’ smaller population size, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorised GIBs as critically endangered, thus on the brink of extinction from the wild.

Why is the Great Indian Bustard endangered?

  • GIBs have been facing a threat to their survival because of intensive agricultural practices, laying of power lines and industrialisation. 
  • Among the biggest threats to the GIBs are overhead power transmission lines.
    • Due to their poor frontal vision, the birds can’t spot the power lines from a distance, and they are too heavy to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. 
    • Thus, they collide with the cables and die and in most cases, death is due to collision rather than electrocution. 
  • According to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), in Rajasthan, 18 GIBs die every year after colliding with overhead power lines.
  • Other threats to the GIB:
    • GIBs are slow breeders and they build their nests on the ground. 
    • The species have also been subjected to hunting and egg collection in the past. 
    • There also has been a decline in prevailing habitat loss as dry grasslands have been diverted for other use. 
    • Experts also warn of pesticide contamination and increase of populations of free-ranging dogs and pigs along with native predators (fox, mongoose, and cat), putting pressure on nests and chicks.

Conservation status:

  • GIBs enjoy the highest protection both in India and globally.
    • It is Listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • It is also listed in Appendix I of CITES.
    • And Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Conservation efforts:

  • The Supreme Court has ordered that all overhead power transmission lines in core and potential GIB habitats in Rajasthan and Gujarat should be made underground.
  • In 2015, the Centre had launched the GIB species recovery programme. 
    • Under this, the WII and Rajasthan forest department jointly set up breeding centres where GIB eggs harvested from the wild were incubated artificially.
  • Wildlife experts believe that more areas outside the protected area must be made suitable for the species. 
    • Experts are also calling for community-centric conservation of the critically endangered species.

Way forward:

  • The conversation around the GIB is not just about the survival of a species but about the kind of world we want to live in and leave behind.
  • As India strides towards a sustainable future, it must embrace innovative and holistic strategies that ensure the coexistence of progress and conservation. 
    • In this delicate balance lies the promise of a sustainable and equitable world.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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