The Heaviest and the smallest members of the bustard family – the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) and Lesser Floricans – finally have some hope. The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has come up with guidelines to protect this almost-extinct species, which is found in the Indian sub-continent.
The guidelines suggest starting ‘Project Bustard’ to save their habitat and start in situ breeding centres to give a push to their dwindling population. The ministry-appointed task force suggested: “It is very important to initiate a national conservation effort…on the lines of Project Tiger or Project Elephant.”
This year, the IUCN listed the GIB as a critically endangered species. Merely 300 of these birds currently survive and their population is confined to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Both the GIB and Lesser Floricans have fallen prey to poaching and the changes in their habitat – mostly grass – lands- which threaten their survival. “The changing lifestyles have also led to a shift in the crop pattern from the bustard-friendly traditional monsoon crops to cash crops, which are not suitable for the GIB,” the guidelines noted.
Bustards generally favour flat open landscape with minimum visual obstruction. In the absence of a clear policy, the bustard habitat was falling prey to urbanisation and increasing agriculture activity. The guidelines suggest the need to have a grassland policy and involving the local population in saving these birds.
The other suggestions include setting up bustard monitoring cells for patrolling of their habitat. Fencing in core areas and appointing forest guards to prevent disturbance to the breeding birds. They also suggest that the non-protected lands adjoining the core areas holding bustards, which are crucial to breeding, should be acquired.
The Lesser Florican breeding is restricted to Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and western Madhya Pradesh. Their number is said to be around 2,500. Experts say the climate change is likely to hit this monsoon breeder the most.
The guidelines also suggest a two-pronged strategy for people’s involvement in Florican conservation: direct reward and incentives for grassland owners and informers as well as general mass awareness.