[Neha Sinha is Advocacy and Policy Officer for the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife's Partner in India). She works on threatened bird species and safeguarding Important Bird Areas]

"Look...those are bustards", I remember a guide saying to me, in Rajasthan’s shimmering, arid desert in Jaisalmer this spring. In the far distance, I saw two birds...and they were demoiselle cranes. "Those are not bustards", I explained. "But they have caps on their heads and I hear bustards have caps", my guide protested. He wouldn’t really know, because fewer than 200 great Indian bustards remain in India.

The great Indian bustard, or GIB, is a big bird, with a black cap, who seems to pose with its head turned up towards the sky. It's been described as a giant bird, as the discerning citizen's choice for India's National Bird, and is locally known as Godawan.

 A solitary GIB in characteristic, head-turned-upwards pose (Ramki Sreenivasan)

But already in my lifetime of 28 years, it has become something of a myth. 

The GIB, one of the world's heaviest and also rarest, flying birds, derives its name from my country. Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of Bombay Natural History Society, and a GIB researcher for more than 30 years, describes it as a species which is 'semi-endemic' to India. The GIB is also found in Pakistan, but we are no longer sure about their abundance. The onus to save this bird is therefore squarely on the shoulders of India and the Supreme Court of India has recently directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests to start a Species Recovery Programmes for the GIB immediately (see here for more details). 

BNHS has been heavily involved in creating a Species Recovery Plan for three bustards that need immediate help: the great Indian bustard, the lesser florican and the Bengal florican (all of which are high priority species for the RSPB). While Project Bustard has been approved in-principle by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, it is yet to get started in earnest.

 Thar Desert, one of the last strongholds of the GIB (Neha Sinha)

In Nepal and India, the RSPB has just started a project to help save the Bengal florican through research that will lead to sustainable conservation measures. We need similar traction for the GIB in India. BirdLife International has organised some funding through their Preventing Extinctions Programme that is being augmented by the RSPB so that work can begin on implementing the GIB Species Recovery Plan, but more action is needed. This is why we are supporting an appeal to the state of Rajasthan to start Project Bustard right away.  More than 900 people have written to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan state, one of the last strongholds of the GIB. You too can add your voice.

Just visit the Conservation India website and add your name to the prototype letter that will then be sent to the Chief Minister.

BNHS and its partners have recently started conservation work on GIB in Andhra Pradesh state. With a programme in other states like Rajasthan and Gujarat, we hope to fill in the pieces in the GIB jigsaw.

Help the great Indian bustard, a bird that belongs to India, and to the world!

 GIB in cotton field (Ramki Sreenivasan)

 

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