Ahmedabad: The Great Indian Bustard, one of the critically endangered flying bird species in the world, will soon be tracked by satellite by the Wildlife Institute of India to understand the movement of this rare bird and its preferred habitat.

The move is viewed as a major push towards saving the dwindling population of the species by hunting and loss of its habitat (dry grasslands), primarily in Gujarat and Rajasthan, besides few other Indian states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

"WII in Dehradun, a government-run institution, has been granted permission for satellite tracking of the Great Indian Bustard," Gujarat Principal Chief Wildlife Conservator of Forest C N Pandey said.

"Being done for research purposes the tracking through satellite will help them (researchers) understand the movement of this rare bird, which is now largely found in the Kutch region of Gujarat, and parts of Rajasthan," he said.

Great Indian Bustard is amongst one of the largest flying bird species found in the world today. It can easily be distinguished by its black crown on the forehead contrasting with the pale neck and head.

"The coastal grasslands of Abdasa and Mandvi talukas of Kutch district in Gujarat support some of its population. The other sanctuary with the species includes Naliya in Kutch," a Gujarat forest department official said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list recognized it as critically endangered in 2011. The portal of IUCN, the world's largest global environmental organization, states that the species' total population was estimated at 300 in 2008 indicating that there are probably fewer than 250 mature ones remaining.

Due to hunting and loss of its habitat (dry grasslands), as few as 250 birds were estimated to survive in 2011, officials said. Distinguishable by its brownish body and wings marked with black, brown and grey, the Great Indian Bustard is listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972, and its international trade is prohibited.

Concerned over rapid reduction in the population of Indian bustards, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests prepared a recovery programme in 2012, for three species of bustard - Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican & Lesser Florican.
 
The Rajasthan government recently launched its own project Great Indian Bustard, at a cost of over Rs 12 crore, to identify and provide secure breeding enclosures, in a bid to arrest its decreasing population.

WII will now undertake tracking of this bird through satellite to develop better understanding of its preferred habitats and breeding patterns. "WII, a government institution, run by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), had sought permission for satellite tracking of four rare bird species," official sources said.

"The Institute plans to undertake the tracking of each one of them one by one, and they have opted to begin with Great Indian Bustard," they said. "They (Indian bustards) make local movements but these are not well understood, although it is known that their populations disperse after monsoons," state forest officials said, commenting on their movement pattern.

Males are usually seen solitary during the breeding season but form small flocks in winter, they said. Meanwhile, Lesser Florican, a rare bird species of tall grasslands, has been spotted at Velavadar (Black buck) National Park in southwest Bhavnagar district of Gujarat, a forest department official said.

(Agencies)

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