Protecting the Great Indian Bustard

Prelims level : Environment Mains level : GS-III Environment & Biodiversity | Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia
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Why in News?

  • Supreme Court’s question regarding the conservation of Great Indian Bustard.


  • The Supreme Court(SC) questioned the Government of India for the conservation of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB) on the lines of Project Tiger.
  • While hearing the petitions related to the deaths of the GIBs due to power transmission lines, a special bench of the SC led by the Chief Justice of India directed the Chief Secretaries of Gujarat and Rajasthan to comprehensively report the total length of power lines and the need of diverters within four weeks. 
  • SC also intervened in April 2021 and asked the authorities to convert the overhead cables into underground power lines (wherever feasible) within one year.

Great Indian Bustard:

  • GIBs are large birds standing with a height of 1 metre and weight of about 15 to 18 kgs.
  • They are not good fliers and have a wide sideways vision to maximize predator detection. However, the frontal vision of the bird is quite narrow.

Threat of Power lines to Great Indian Bustard:

  • One of the most significant threats that have led to the considerable decline of the GIB populations is power lines. 
  • According to various studies across the world, the high mortality of Denham’s bustards (South Africa) and Great Bustard (Spain) was caused due to power lines.
  • Due to narrow frontal vision, GIBs cannot detect power lines from far. Moreover, as they are heavy fliers, they fail to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. 
  • They are highly vulnerable to collision with power lines and the death is majorly due to collision instead of electrocution.
  • A study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in 2020 reported 6 cases of GIB mortality due to power-line collisions in Thar from 2017-20.

Status of GIB and Measures taken for its conservation:

  • GIB are highly protected in India as well as the world. They are listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in Appendix I of CITES.
  • It is listed as a Critically Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. 
  • The population of GIB was approximately 1,260 in the year 1969 and has dropped by 75% in the last three decades.
  • The GIB population was distributed among 11 western states of India earlier. 
  • However, in the present scenario, the entire population remains largely confined to only Rajasthan and Gujarat. 
  • Small populations are also found in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.
  • The total population across India stands at 150, out of which around 128 birds are found in Rajasthan. 
  • Government has taken several measures to mitigate the impact of the power transmission lines.
  • Sixteen GIB chicks were artificially hatched from eggs collected from the wild. 
  • They are also reared in the satellite conservation breeding facility at Sam in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. 
  • The aim of ‘Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard-an integrated approach’ is to build the captive population of the GIBs and eventually release the chicks in the wild. 
  • The initiative would probably stretch for 20 to 25 years. 
  • Several conservation experts and scientists from the WII, have demanded the removal of all overhead powerlines passing through the GIB priority/critical areas in Rajasthan. 
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change(MoEFCC)  has constituted a task force in this direction.

Other threats to GIB:

  • The GIBs are slow breeders and they build their nests on the ground. 
  • They have also been subjected to hunting and egg collection in the past. 
  • There is also a threat of habitat loss as the dry grasslands are being diverted for other use. 
  • Another major challenge is pesticide contamination and increased populations of free-ranging dogs, pigs, and other native predators that put pressure on nests and chicks. 
  • Though the majority of the species is confined to the Jaisalmer Desert National Park (DNP), the area should be expanded beyond the protected area and must be made suitable for the species. 
  • It should also be noted that a conservation effort on the lines of Project Tiger might not work for a large bird of an arid region as it can always fly out of the protected area. 
  • The community-centric conservation efforts are required for the effective and efficient protection of the species.
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