Friday, November 18, 2016

Indian Bustard Nearing Extinction

A large bird resembling a miniature ostrich, the Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is nearing extinction.  Only 250 of these birds remain in the wild, with an estimated 150 living in the Thar Desert.  Once common to Indian's dry plains, it has suffered from habitat loss and hunting. Rathjastan's dry plains have been transformed by irrigated agriculture and are crisscrossed by canals. The bustard has been protected under Indian's wildlife laws since 1972, but the ICUN lists the bustard as one of the world's 100 most endangered species in the world.

Indian bustards are among the heaviest of flying birds.  A fully grown male can weigh forty pounds or more.  During the colonial occupation of India, British soldiers considered the flesh delicious and enthusiastically hunted the bird.  The Mugal emperor Babur, noted that "every part of the Kharchal is delicious" The bird proved to be a wary target.  Males could be located by their booming call that carries long distances.  The jeep allowed hunters to chase down bustards across their open, semi-arid habitat.  The bustard's flesh is also alleged to have aphrodisiac qualities, yet one more unjustifiable reason for man to exterminate another of the creatures he has a moral obligation to protect.

There are conservation efforts to protect the dwindling bird, especially in its last stronghold, the Thar Desert in Rathjastan [photo]Yale's Environment360, published a dispatch about the efforts of Dr. Pramod Patil to save the bustard.  He exchanges medical aid to local herders for their help in protecting bustards from poachers.  With the help of his local allies, Dr. Patil has managed to halt their population decline, identify breeding areas, and accurately document sightings.  The herders were first very skeptical of Dr. Patil's efforts, but his medical skills and supplies won them to his cause.  The doctor turned conservationist has received international recognition for his work helping the bustard survive.

Nevertheless, their situation is dire; bustards are slow breeders producing just one egg a season, and it is susceptible to predation by a host of other local species besides man.  Setting aside protected habitat with local stakeholders will help their survival chances tremendously.  UNESCO has proposed designating the Thar a world heritage site.  Managed by Rathjastan's forest department, its undisturbed scrub land is ideal bustard habitat.  There is also hope for a fledgling ecotourism business that could economically benefit local people.