In a first, it will soon be curtains for Great Indian Bustard sanctuary in MP

Government prepares to denotify the Karera Wildlife Sanctuary, created in 1981 to protect the magnificent bird from going the way of the dodo

Bhopal: Amid reports that only one male Great Indian Bustard is left in India, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department is readying to denotify the Karera Wildlife Sanctuary, which was created in 1981 to ensure that the Great Indian Bustard – a huge and magnificent bird – does not go the way of the dodo.

First time in India

This will be first instance of a national park or a sanctuary being declared unprotected in the country.
“We have obtained the requisite clearances from all the authorities, including the National Wildlife Board. The Supreme Court has permitted us to go ahead, provided we notify an equivalent area in any other part of the state as a sanctuary,” Shahbaz Ahmad, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) told DB Post. This, he added, would be done soon by enlarging the area of the Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary. Once that is done, a formal notification would be issued.

Reports quoting the Wildlife Institute of India and the Bombay Natural History Society said on Tuesday that only  one male Great Indian Bustard and a couple of females left in India. The surviving birds are currently in Gujarat’s Kutch district.

Fifty-plus birds

A 202 sq km area in Karera in the Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh was notified as a wildlife sanctuary in 1981 by the state Government at the instance of the Bombay Natural History Society.

The project was a runaway success in the initial years and the number of Great Indian Bustards multiplied rapidly. At one time, more than fifty birds were resident in the park. However, things started going downhill in the beginning of the 1990s and by 1995, the birds had entirely disappeared.

Reward scheme

An alarmed forest department announced a reward of Rs. 10,000 for anyone who could show a bird to its personnel. Anyone bringing an egg of the bird – known as Son Chirraiya locally – was to be awarded Rs. 8,000. For the next eleven years, the forest department could not find a single claimant for the awards.

Blackbucks become villain of the piece

Besides poaching, (the meat of the Bustard is considered a delicacy), the other reason for the disappearance of the bird — ironically — was another endangered species. The blackbucks – a species of deer – which were also introduced in Karera, took to its environs excellently and their numbers started swelling. Soon their population crossed the 5,000 mark. In fact, their large numbers may be one of the factors behind the disappearance of the birds. The Great Indian Bustard lays eggs in open grasslands and the blackbucks crushing them under their feet was a very obvious possibility.

Government under pressure

By and by, pressure started building on the government to denotify the sanctuary. Besides the fact that the raison d’être for the park had disappeared, the travails of the farmers living in the vicinity of the sanctuary was another reason. Residents of 32 villages on the perimeter  of the park are barred from selling their agricultural land under the provisions of the Wildlife Conservation Act. They are helpless even as herds of blackbucks from the park make regular forays into their fields, destroying their crops. They can neither kill the animal – for it invites punitive action from the forest department –  nor can they sell their land to migrate elsewhere.

The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is a large bird with a horizontal body and long bare legs, giving it an ostrich like appearance. It is among the heaviest of the flying birds. Once found all over the Indian sub-continent, it is now a critically-endangered species. It is about one metre high and is an omnivore.
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Amrish Herdenia

Amrish Herdenia is a Assistant Editor for DBPOST and is based in Bhopal. Contact this editor at amrishherdenia@hotmail.com.