Conservation Conversations

LOSS OF GRASSLAND HABITAT WILL BE THE END OF GREAT INDIAN BUSTARDS

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Dr SAMAD KOTTUR

Green Minute speaks to Dr Samad Kottur (K S Abdul Samad) who is a researcher, bird conservationist and naturalist. He has many scientific papers to his credit, carrying out studies on sloth bears and GIB. He has a doctorate on “Ecology of Sloth Bears of Ballari district”. He has re-discovered GIB in Ballari and Koppal districts, Karnataka and since then documenting its movements. Kottur has documented more than 230 bird species in and around the vicinity of the world famous Hampi monuments.

Q1. With habitats getting shrinking, where do you see the future of the Great Indian Bustards? 

It is so sad that the grassland habitat is being shrunk due to population explosion and great demand for agricultural lands. The major threats being encroachment of the grasslands / gomala lands for farming and the forest department planting trees in grasslands and scrub jungle. It is necessary to sensitize people as well as the department that our intervention, if any should be based on scientific studies. Why should trees be planted in scrub jungles? Thorny trees and bushes are nature’s selection for that particular ecosystem, why should we plant all other trees and destroy the grasslands and scrub forests.  By destroying grasslands, waste lands, scrub jungles and the like, we are losing the grassland birds such as Great Indian Bustard, Lesser Florican, Indian Courser, Chestnut bellied sandgrouse, Larks, Pipits, Quails, Francolins, and so on. Loss of grassland habitat will be the end of Great Indian Bustards. The classic example is the loss of the grassland ecosystem in Ranebennur Blackbuck Sanctuary where an enormous number of eucalyptus trees were planted. The result is no trace of GIBs there for the last 25 years.

Blackbucks in GIB area, Siruguppa

Q2. How does the extinction of GIBs affect the ecology of the dry landscapes? What happens when the chain breaks? 

Great Indian Bustards are farmer’s friends. They eat grasshoppers, locusts, calotes, lizards etc. and act as pest controllers.  Apart from this, there are many unseen links in ecology. Extinction of this magnificent bird of grasslands results in an uncontrolled rise of pests and loss of crop and other impacts. The loss of a chain casts disastrous effects in the long run. 

Adult male GIB in Siruguppa

Q3. What is your proposal for the conservation of GIBs and its habitat? 

Leave the GIBs undisturbed in their natural habitat. Less human intervention is always welcome for the long-term conservation efforts to save this bird. The farmers are used to having them around in their fields. They are not aware that it happens to be one of the rarest birds in our country. It’s in one way advantageous for conservation. Otherwise, given to its rarity, hunting, destroying its eggs and other illegal activities might emerge. For the last 16 years, we have conducted awareness programs in the school and took the help of some localites to get an update on the status of GIBs. Today, we can see that the birds are breeding and surviving in the black cotton soil.

It is better to stay away from them as far as possible and have requested the forest department to patrol on foot in the core areas of GIBs. While patrolling on the main road, we’ve also asked them not to reveal much information about GIBs.

Q4. How important are the dry landscapes of our country, and what role does it play in maintaining the balance in the ecosystem?

The grasslands and scrub jungles are considered as “Wastelands”. The grassland and scrub jungle, whether it is under the forest department or the revenue, acts as an excellent habitat for many forms of life. The grass and scrub jungle helps rainwater percolate, the thorny trees do not evaporate the underground water. Whereas, the tall trees and broad-leaved trees draw a lot of water from underground and evaporate, if planted in these unique habitats. The ground-nesting birds such as GIB, Lesser Florican, Indian Courser, Sand grouses, Larks, pipits, Francolins, Peafowls, Stone curlew, Lapwings, and so on depend on grasslands and scrub jungles for breeding. 

Pangolins, Porcupines, Civets, Jackals, Wolves, Foxes, Jungle cats, Monitor Lizards, different species of snakes, Lizards, Geckos, Star tortoise and other life forms depend on the grasslands and scrub jungles. Chinkaras and Blackbucks are also grassland species. So, every ecosystem has its traits and life forms and with our intervention any change in ecosystem results in loss of life forms of that particular ecosystem. Forests do not mean only trees. There’s a lot more to it and much needs to be understood.

Agasanur tower

Q5. Lastly, where does Siruguppa stand today in the conservation of GIBs?

Siruguppa is the third and last breeding site of GIBs other than two locations in Rajasthan.  The GIBs breed here because of the compatible and favourable conditions provided by the farmlands. They breed in the sun flower and cotton fields during winter when the crop grows to an optimum height of 1 meter and the farmers intervention in the crop is less at that stage of the crop. So, no disturbance at all.

Yet natural predators such as foxes may steal the eggs or the egg may be trampled by the black bucks.   Moreover, GIBs are used to minor disturbances such as agricultural activities, movement of farmers, cutting of thorny bushes etc. Hence, we need to maintain the current status of the ecosystem in order to conserve the GIBs. 

APC and electric line

The Karnataka forest department has constructed a few APCs, waterholes, watchtowers at Siruguppa which have not helped in saving the GIBs. There is no need for huge investments for the conservation of GIBs which the FD is doing. Without careful studies, the acts by the FD has led to a decrease in the numbers of GIBs in Karnataka.

(In conversation with R S Tejus)