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Misspellings killed it

While it's namesake still proliferates throughout the country no matter what kind of agitation against corruption you may be up to, the Great Indian Bustard has now been officially recognised as being 'critically endangered'.

india Updated: Jun 13, 2011 21:09 IST

While it's namesake still proliferates throughout the country no matter what kind of agitation against corruption you may be up to, the Great Indian Bustard has now been officially recognised as being 'critically endangered'.

This kind of bustard, the maldhok, was once found in large numbers in the arid and semi-arid areas of western India and eastern Pakistan. The rise of irrigated areas due to farming have seen the number of Great Indian Bustards dwindling over the decades. Now, with some 250 of these birds left, they are facing extinction.

There is an irony in the fact that a perfectly harmless species is vanishing while the welfare of people increases with more irrigated land. One would have been much more comfortable if the bustards had been a burden on human society. Instead, the large ostrich-looking bustard, among the heaviest of the flying birds, are already looking like they're on their way to become as dead as the dodo, which became extinct around 1693.

But unlike the extinction of the dodo, the Great Indian Bustard won't disappear thanks to it being over-eaten - although its flesh was relished in the past, Emperor Babur having a fondness for it. The rapid shrinking in the population - there were about 1,000 bustards in 2008 - is because of habitat loss, and with past attempts to breed them in captivity failing.

So there is really only one way to save them: send all the 250-odd bustards off to a dry grassland area or scrub region where water and irrigation - in other words, farmers and their farming - won't ever interfere with them. The battle between farmers and bustards, perhaps, has bigger consequences than the one being fought between farmers and the government over industrialisation.

One would do well to remember that the bird was once a strong candidate to being anointed India's national bird. It lost to the peacock for various reasons. But as you may have figured out by now, one of the strongest reasons for it not making the grade was the fear of it being misspelt and children shouting out its name.

Once again, it seems like it's getting a raw deal. Poor bustard.