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5 wildlife experts honoured as they made history with first-of-its-kind work on Great Indian Bustard

By Harsh Vardhan

Five wildlife experts from the premier scientific arm of Government of India, Wildlife Institute of India (WII)  have received the Sawai Awards 2020 on  October 22, 2020 at the City Palace, Jaipur. It is to recognise their pioneering scientific work on ex-situ breeding of Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican in India in recent years.  

The recipients are: Dr. YV Jhala, Dean and project investigator, Dr. Sutirtha Dutta, scientist, co-investigator and project coordinator, Dr. Tushna Karkaria, lead veterinarian, Mr. Bipin C. M., lead ecologist, and Dr. Shravan Singh Rathore, veterinarian and center manager. 

Owing to the virus reasons, the ceremony had to be through a video presentation which featured  Jaipur Rajmata, Padmini Devi and her daughter, Princess Diya Kumari, speaking about the role of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum Trust administered by them.  23 persons of eminence received awards: a metal urn, a shawl, a citation-certificate and some cash. This award is constituted after Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh I, who advocated environmental conservation.  

Indian bustards facing the threat of extinction

Indian bustards are on the brink of extinction. Their dry open habitats are long marginalised as ‘unproductive wastelands’ and diverted to intensive agriculture, tree plantations, and renewable energy production. Because of these changes and excessive hunting in the past, bustards disappeared from 90% of their range with steep declines in the last 30 years. Conserving them required synergy between specialized research, experiments, and management guided by these learnings. That never happened as grasslands stayed in the shadow of forest centric conservation, and decision makers avoided the risk of specialized research and experiments. For many years, conservation circles kept highlighting the need for recovery actions including captive breeding, and formulated a road map to this end (2013). 

How the things changed in 2019

The wind changed around early 2019, when permissions came through, to commence conservation breeding and telemetry in Rajasthan. The Wildlife Institute of India, a premier conservation research organization based at Dehradun, initiated actions under the Bustard Recovery Program with support from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Rajasthan Government and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation. A team of specially trained technicians was stationed at Jaisalmer that implemented a flurry of challenging tasks since March 2019.  

Newer initiatives mark the positive beginnings

Birds were tagged to understand their movement ecology, threats and plan habitat restoration. A pilot conservation breeding facility was built at Sam. Wild eggs were tracked and collected, artificially hatched and chicks were carefully raised to form a founder population of 16 Great Indian Bustards so far. Since July 2020, another pilot facility was built at Bijainagar where two Lesser Florican eggs were collected, hatched and are being reared.  

Why it is like a world record

India could attain this feat after prolonged debate on the issue for almost forty years. It looks like a world record, never attempted earlier on the species. Congratulations WII and all others associated with it from this Media Portal specializing in conservation concentric appeals. 

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