The number of Great Indian Bustards, the State Bird of Rajasthan, is down to less than 50 according to the last official census conducted in 2014. The world population of GIB is said to be 150 with India, particularly Rajasthan, comprising 70 per cent of this species.
A couple of birds have been spotted in Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh. At some point, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar also had Bustards but have now lost them all.
In a survey conducted by the State Forest Department last year, there were approximately 103 Bustards (plus-minus 69) as compared to 83 in the winter of 2013 and 34 in the summer which is the breeding season. Similarly, the year before that 94 were sighted in winter and 60 in summer. We used a different technique for sighting the GIBs, or Gudavan as it is locally known as, which gave an approximate figure of 103 which could be 69 plus or minus as against 1,500 once upon a time,” Anoop K. Raghavan, Deputy Conservator of Forests(Wildlife), Jaisalmer told The Hindu.
The desert landscape was divided into 18 grids of 12×12 sq kilomteres and the bird count undertaken, including the Desert National creating in inviolable zone for GIB leaving the management of the Park spread across Jaisalmer and Barmer districts. Over 90,000 Chinkaras (State animal) and 8,000 Desert Fox were also counted in the census.
The GIBs have been vanishing over the years due to shrinking habitat. Thar Desert is the only landscape in the world that provides viable breeding population to GIBs, and it was with this in mind that over 3,100 sq km of areas was notified as Protected Area and declared a sanctuary in the 1980s. Though the area is known as the Desert National Park (DNP), legally it is only a sanctuary.
While changing lifestyle in the desert, and unregulated human activities have endangered the species, thousands of windmills around the park are posing a serious threat to the GIB which has been categorised as “critically endangered”.
Unfortunately, the DNP authorities have control over only 4 per cent of the land area which is fenced for creating inviolable zones for GIB, leaving the management of the Park to merely creating new enclosures and driving livestock out of the broken enclosures.
The status of the remaining area of the DNP (notified sanctuary) is still revenue land and not yet mutated in the name of Forest Department. There are 73 villages and 300 dhanis (hamlets) living within the DNP who are living without any basic amenities like water, electricity, communication lines and schools despite relaxation granted by the Supreme Court in allowing these facilities inside the protected area.
Shortage of forest guards is also another issue plaguing the DNP. “I am surviving on guards in transit. They are all Graduates and Post Graduates and leave within a couple of years when they another job,” says Mr Raghavan due to lack of pay parity with police and jail personnel and lack of facilities for the families.
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