I guess you are unlikely to see the above headline in your newspaper on 30th April, 2030! Not because it is an unlikely event, but because it is unlikely to grab headlines.
What you will see, is perhaps, this ....
.... because that is how important this species is to all and sundry. People who protect it, people who should protect it, people who champion wildlife and environment causes, you and I!
The Great Indian Bustard is an unfortunate bird. It is at the wrong place at the wrong time. This bird is too big, needs too much space, and is finicky about its needs. Plus it flies, often long distances, and far away from where it gets some protection. It is a difficult breeder and is most unlikely to reproduce in captivity as some have suggested. And worst, it is in demise when an icon is also declining. So all the money, all the attention, all the charisma is with the tiger. Who remembers a starlet when the real thing is around!
As a result, most ardent wildlife campaigners give this species the foster-child treatment. There is either no money or no glamour in fighting for this species – and everyone working in this field needs one or the other. The forest officials are even worse. Some may not even know that such a bird exists. And NGO's spend millions attaching expensive gadgets to track Greylag and Bar-headed Geese but fail to even try and find out where these birds roam, information that might have helped protect them.
Apathy will be the reason for the loss of this bird for ever. Make no mistake!
When I first wrote a note about the bird in March 2010 on kolkatabirds.com, there were an estimated 999 birds per Birdllife International's global count. Sometime in 2011-2012, Birdlife reduced that estimate to less than 300 (in 2008) based on updated information, and changed the status to Critically Endangered. Most reports these days suggest that no more than 250 birds survive worldwide at this time, and some even consider that the actual number is lower.
We have no idea how old these surviving birds are and what is the sex ratio. We don't know where they range through the year, and how many are poached. We also have no idea of breeding success rates. We could have had some of these issues covered if we cared. We did not, and will continue not to! We need to save rhinos, tigers, elephants – we need to read papers at international forums, we need to enthuse children to save tigers, we have so many priorities and distractions! Others should do it, not us! But the fact is that there are no others. All the others save the tiger or the lion or the crane – fauna that has international funding support and interest. The poor bustard has only well wishers - no real champions here, or elsewhere in the world!
I am not sure if the bustard will be saved even if we devote time and attention to it. I feel that the hump has been crossed and a series of failed breeding attempts coupled with poisoning, poaching, habitat-loss and age will gradually knock off the remaining birds over time. Nothing you or I can do about it. But what about trying? Should we not try to save this great iconic bird? Come on tiger and elephant wallahs – you know how to do it, only you have the resources and the skill, don't have this birds' blood on your hands! Sumit K. Sen April 2013
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