Running out of time? The great Indian bustard Ardeotis nigriceps—status, viability, and conservation strategies

Oct 25, 2020

The endemic great Indian bustard (GIB) is evolutionarily trapped between open nesting and k-selection that endangers its persistence under prevailing levels of habitat loss and hunting. A global population of about 300 birds is further fragmented into eight populations in the states of Rajasthan (shared with Pakistan), Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh in India. The largest population of 100–125 birds exists in Jaisalmer, Barmer, and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan. Remaining populations number less than 35 birds each. Prevalent GIB conservation strategies use legislation to (a) secure traditional breeding areas by declaring small Protected Areas (PA) or (b) protect vast areas with varied human land uses. The vagrant nature of GIB reduces the benevolent effect of small PAs, while large reserves alienate people by curbing legitimate subsistence rights through strict legislation. These factors along with ill-informed habitat management challenge the current PA approach, even causing local extinctions. Population viability analysis shows that GIB populations of ≤35 birds can persist only under unrealistic conditions of first year mortality ≤40%, and no human caused mortality of adult birds. Even the largest population (≥100 birds) is sensitive to additional loss of adult birds to human causes. With current levels of hunting in Pakistan, extinction is a real threat. A landscape conservation strategy using conservation/community reserve concept that includes controlled traditional land uses with GIB-friendly infrastructural development is needed. The declining rate of GIB populations calls for immediate commencement of ex situ conservation breeding programs.

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