By Rachna Singh, Vimal Bhatia
Jaipur/Jaisalmer: The state bird conservation plan is caught up in bureaucratic red-tapism. The ministry of environment & forest (MoEF) recently wrote to the state government for its consent on ex situ captive breeding programme for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB).
According to official sources in the forest department, "The file is still under consideration. The Union ministry has put a clause that if Rajasthan agrees to ex-situ captive breeding programme, the state would have to contribute 50% of the expenses or else they would take the project to Maharashtra or Gujarat. Since this would need to be processed with several departments including finance, the matter is likely to take shape only after the elections."
On the flip side Gujarat and Maharashtra are keen to set up a conservation breeding project if Rajasthan would loan birds to it, which was found unacceptable to Jaipur based foresters. "The GIB has been pushed to a 'near extinction' status as per science. GIB's captive breeding programme is need of the hour. Dr. Vibhu Prakash's example of breeding vultures in captivity at Pinjore is already available, globally supported and can be adopted here," said Harsh Vardhan who has been championing the cause of the bird since 1980.
Till any decision is taken on captive breeding, the ministry has accorded consent to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) that intends to put satellite transmitters on 6-8 birds in Rajasthan, provided the forest department gives its consent. However, the issue is hanging for months.
A positive step that Rajasthan forest authorities have taken to conserve the bird is to conduct a first time census of the bird in a scientific manner. A census for which WII scientists and forest department experts would jointly work. So far the census was based on a visual count within the Desert National Park (DNP) in which forest guards were found to be lacking in scientific content. The birds limit themselves to selected few grassland habitats and the park has been their last hope.
A three-pronged approach has been carved out to blend expertise from WII, forest department and volunteers. It is led by Dr. G S Bhardwaj, chief conservator - desert wildlife, Jodhpur, who worked a few years on the bird while at WII.
Ten biologists and 20 volunteers, besides equal number of forest guards have formed 20 teams to do GPS mapping of birds through jeeps from March 22 and will continue this for 7 days. Suthirtho Dutta, a scientist, from WII, is heading the ground operations. "About 45,000 square kilometer area has been identified in Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur and Sokhalian area in Ajmer. Around 20 teams will do the census keeping in view the transit method, habitat etc along with effect of human interference. Each team will go in 12x12 square km area on vehicular transit and camel etc and will do the census of the bird," said Bhardwaj, nodal officer for the census.
It is estimated that there are less than 150 GIBs left in the wild. The largest, about 60, are believed to be in Rajasthan, mostly within DNP. Gujarat and Maharashtra have next higher population.