With the Supreme Court allowing the Maharashtra government to cut down the size of the Great Indian Bustard sanctuary area spreading over Solapur and Ahmednagar district by nearly 85% last month, forest officials are in the process of stepping up conservation efforts in the remaining areas, with a special focus core area of around 193 sqkm in isolated pockets in Solapur district. But even that will not be an easy task.
"With a total staff of 60 personnel it is impossible to monitor such a large area, which included developed townships," Praveen Pardesi, principal secretary (forests) said. "Now the government can focus on core areas and improve the conservation efforts." However, the government will have to acquire private lands to make continuous patches available for breeding of the bird, officials said.
A budget of Rs 10 crore has been set aside to acquire 434 hectares in the core area of Nanaj Mardi, officials said. 'Core areas' imply lands owned by the forest and revenue departments that can be given strict protection.The sanctuary has been reduced from 8494 square km to 1222 square km. This also halves the protected area under Wildlife Protection Act in the state. The bird population in the sanctuary has reduced from 61 in 1989 to just nine in 2010. With less than 300 GIBs remaining in the country, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) declared the bird critically endangered in June 2011.
Activists say it all started in 1979 with a "knee-jerk" reaction to safeguard one of the heaviest flying birds, when the government notified the entire region including urban and developed areas of Solapur and few other towns in the vicinity. Despite that the authorities could not prevent steady habitat erosion and subsequent decrease in numbers in this vast unsustainable expanse, experts say.
The bird, which reportedly lost out to the peacock when the national bird was chosen because of its tricky spelling, feeds on insects around farms and prefers to live on dry grasslands. However, increased use of pesticides and insecticides has affected availability of food for the bird. "The bird needs undisturbed areas for breeding," said Sujit Narwade, scientist in-charge, ENVIS Centre at the Bombay Natural History Society.