Save the BUSTARD What can we learn from the UK Great Bustard reintroduction?
Saevus|December 2020 - February 2021
Dangerously close to extinction, the Great Indian Bustard’s survival depends upon close co-operation, grassland protection and habitat restoration, among other concerns.
DR NAVEEN PANDEY

Common Name: Great Bustard

Scientific Name: Otis tarda tarda

IUCN status: Vulnerable

Population and distribution: Global population around 44,000 – 57,000, range is across Eurasia from Iberia and Morocco to China.

Behaviour: Male and female have separate groups (droves), slow gait, long and deeply fingered wings, generally silent, sometimes nasal bark when threatened, can’t perch (due to absence of opposable hind claw)

Feeding habit: Omnivorous -- young shoots, leaves, fruits, flowers. Insects and lizards are also consumed. Young birds are mainly carnivorous.

Habitat: Prefer lowland, river valleys, and undulating open country, adapted to agricultural landscapes

Breeding: Females are very selective, males elaborately display, males mature at four years and females at two years, polygamous, the largest sexual size dimorphism in body mass.

Nesting: Males have no role in nesting, female alone takes care of incubation and hatching, nests on the ground, usually two eggs.

“David, how do you ensure that the chicks do not imprint on humans while being raised in captivity?”. David, maintaining his momentum, replied, “A dehumanising suit with no obvious hands and legs helps to avoid human imprinting. Use of a puppet feeder also helps”.

We had been conversing for over three hours about how David Waters (Founder and Executive Officer, The Great Bustard Group) and his team have successfully reintroduced one of the heaviest flying birds, the Great Bustard, Otis tarda tarda (GB hereafter) to the UK.

Why did Britain lose the Great Bustard?

The IUCN Red List classified the GB as a Vulnerable species in 1996 with a global population of around 50,000. Range restrictions and extinction in some European countries worsened the situation. The GB became extinct in the wild, in the UK, as a breeding species in 1832. Anthropogenic factors such as hunting, egg collection, mechanised agriculture, changes in crop pattern and loss of grasslands contributed to the decline. Coursing with dogs and predation of eggs and chicks by dogs were also reported.

What is the status of the Great Indian Bustard in Kutch?

I’ve known the grasslands of Abdasa taluka/tehsil in the Kutch district of Gujarat for a decade and have observed many of the same factors responsible for the decline of the GB in the UK, impacting the Great Indian Bustard, Ardeotis nigriceps (hereafter GIB). Apart from hunting (Known from old records of the Maharao of Kutch. Salim Ali also found feathers of bustards outside the army canteen in the 1950s), the recent development of a crisscross network of power lines has been detrimental.

Following the tragic earthquake of 2001, the semi-arid area of Kutch saw government-led economic development of the region. Rapid mechanisation of agriculture, changes from cereal crops to cash crops, increased use of pesticides, encroachment of grasslands, land-use policy changes and a growing stray dog population, pushed the GIB to the edge of extinction. On a windy evening in winter 2012, I vividly remember a magnificent sighting of a dozen GIB promenading in the grasslands. All that remains now is an all-female drove of four-five birds.

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