This Is The First Major Extinction That Independent India Will See Unless We Do Something About It

Alisha Fernandes , 17 Dec 2018

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Image: Baiju Patil // Arjun Awasthi wrote on the Great Indian Bustard for #SanctuaryAsia's December 2015 issue. "The Great Indian #Bustard (GIB) remains one of the most dynamic species living on the #Indian Subcontinent. Raptor-like in appearance, it is the largest terrestrial Eurasian bird. Though GIB numbers tragically continue to dwindle, we still have hope. Without doubt, the first step to saving the #bird is to assure it space, protection and the availability of food. Towards this end, technologies including the use of remote and satellite sensing are being put into play to track the birds. Despite all the difficulties and the distinct possibility of failure, we probably have no choice but to look much more seriously at the idea of captive breeding. This entails the capture of fit and genetically-viable individuals from the #wild, together with a protocol and resources to release offspring back into the wild. Such programmes have been successful with different #species, particularly birds, and could with luck and determination, help save the GIB," he writes. Log on to www.sanctuaryasia.com to read 'Breed or Bust?' by Arjun Awasthi.

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One of the saddest things that conservationists and scientists have to deal with, in my opinion, is how their warnings and words of caution go unheeded till the absolute last minute. Then it becomes a case of “Oh well, nothing to be done now!”, which is not true because as they say, it’s not over till it’s over. This is precisely why even though warning bells were ignored about the impending extinction of the Great Indian Bustard, there is a need now, more than ever, to band together to try and ensure that independent India doesn’t see the first-ever extinction of a bird in our lifetime.

More About The Bird In Question…

The Great Indian Bustard is native to India and shares the same kind of habitat of the black buck. Since this bird is not found anywhere else in the world, once its population dies out here, that’s the end. They are only found in our country and as of 2018, there are fewer than 150 individuals fragmented across habitats in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Madhya Pradesh was also a part of this list, but it has now been declared locally extinct in the state. It is a grassland bird that was even considered when officials were picking what the national bird should be, but ultimately it was not chosen because they feared that the name would be commonly misspelt as ‘bastard’ instead of ‘bustard’.

How Did We Get Here?

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#Repost @vannyaapp (@get_repost) ・・・ The Great Indian Bustard is one of the the heaviest flying birds in the world and it almost made it as the National Bird of India. This species is endemic to only India and Pakistan (although the Pakistani population is almost non-existent). With a current population of only 150 individuals, the survival of this species does not look very promising. The major threat for this critically endangered species, is not just the power lines which criss-cross the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard, or predation by feral dogs, or overgrazing of grasslands and pesticide poisoning, but also a total lack of urgency to protect the species by the government. To revive the numbers of the Great Indian Bustard is going to be very challenging unless the government takes serious steps. The biology of the bird itself poses a great challenge to save the species. They are extremely slow breeders, the female usually lays only one egg a year and cannot lay any more eggs in the next year. Even though the population of the species is an abysmal 150, it does not mean the entire population is viable for breeding. Most of these 150 individuals are scattered over many states, and may not be able to find a suitable partner for successful breeding. Captive breeding is the only remaining solution to prevent this species from going extinct very very soon. The idea of captive breeding has been under deliberation for over a decade and no real action has been taken by any of the concerned authorities, even though the MOU was signed two years ago for the very same purpose! Will 2020 be the year of extinction of the Great Indian Bustard? This could probably be the first major extinction that may happen since India’s independence. The failure to protect this bird is a huge failure for our Nation. Conservation India, Corbett Foundation and Sanctuary Nature Foundation have initiated one last attempt to draw the attention of people, policy makers and key stakeholders towards this extremely grave issue. Sign petition mentioned in the bio NOW! #GIB  #ExtinctionIsForever  #GreatIndianShame  #RacingExtinction  #GreatIndianBustard  #vannya #birding #bird #birds

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This bird, which is endemic to India, with a world population of only 150 now, has many reasons that contributed to its sharp decline in such a short period of time. It is estimated that the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) can go extinct as early as the year 2020 if something isn’t done… fast! Madhya Pradesh has already lost all its birds, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka have a handful in each state, and topping the list is Rajasthan, with a measly 100. By far the saddest is the story of the one lonely GIB in Maharashtra, who performs its mating ritual for a non-existent mate.
Amongst the different reasons for its population decline are the fact that India’s grasslands (their natural habitats) are being converted and developed by a government, who thinks of these areas as revenue wastelands. Why protect natural spaces when they can be used for ‘development’, right? Another reason is that this rapid urbanisation has led to a lot of waste, and therefore a proliferation of stray dogs to whom these ground-nesting birds are super easy targets. Unfortunately, even the GIB’s own biological clock is not helping matters because they only breed once every other year. They are like humans in that sense, one can say.


But most importantly, the biggest factor that has caused this rapid decline is the high tension power transmission lines, which are present throughout GIB grassland territory. They have been the cause of an innumerable number of electrocutions. Close to 20 Great Indian Bustards, on an average, are said to die by electrocution every year, and that is a scary number considering their total population, as mentioned earlier, is only 150.

What Can We Do?

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I love this image by [email protected] of @thecorbettfoundation because it's a glimmer of hope for what too many have written off as a hopeless case. The alarm bell for the impending #extinction of the Great Indian Bustard didn't ring yesterday. It rang decades ago… And was ignored. Rapidly, before the eyes of a handful of #scientists and concerned citizens, this stunning #grassland bird began to vanish from its habitats. Madhya Pradesh lost every single member of its #GIB population; Maharashtra is left with one lonely bird who performs it's courtship routine for a mate that doesn't exist; Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have about 6 birds each; #Gujarat has an estimated 25 of which only one is an adult male; #Rajasthan has about 100. It's truly the final countdown for the GIB. There are so many elements working against their survival. Their grassland #habitats have been deemed revenue wastelands and are thus rapidly encroached, destroyed, sold and converted. The filth created by humans has led to a boom in stray dogs which easily predate on these groundnesting birds. And most urgently, miles of high tension power transmission lines have been erected around GIB habitats. These have caused an unknowable number of electrocution. The #Wildlife Institute of #India estimates that up-to 18 GIBs die from such collisions every year. That's 15% of their total population lost to electrocution annually! It doesn't help matters that the bustard's own biology works against it. They breed only once every other year – pouring their resources into bringing up their single #chicks. I can not bring myself to sit back when we are witnessing the first major extinction that Independent India will see. I fear what it will say about us as a people if we allow the GIB to slip into oblivion. Particularly so because there are both solutions and money at our disposal. What's missing altogether is political will and public outrage. The latter is so easy to express in the age of social media and I implore you to be angry. Our petition to India's Ministry of Power is now live on the Conservation India website. The link is in my bio please sign it immediately.

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Sanctuary Asia and The Corbett Foundation & Conservation India have started a campaign petition that they will submit to the Ministry of Power. It is to appeal to the government to simply bury the high tension power lines and assure this magnificent bird has its rightful space in its own habitat.
As wildlife conservationist Cara Tejpal said on Instagram,

I cannot bring myself to sit back when we are witnessing the first major extinction that Independent India will see. I fear that it will say about us as a people if we allow the GIB to slip into oblivion. Particularly so because there are both solutions and money at our disposal. What’s missing altogether is political will and public outrage. The latter is so easy to express in the age of social media and I implore you to be angry. Our petition to India’s Ministry of Power is now live on the Conservation India website.

You can join in the campaign and sign the petition here.

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