Sarus crane numbers up in Gautam Budh Nagar
The sarus crane is the state bird of Uttar Pradesh. It is mainly found across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, West Bengal and the north-eastern states.
Despite heavy loss of habitat, the trumpeting call of the sarus crane – the world’s tallest flying bird with a height of approximately 1.8m and also the state bird of Uttar Pradesh— continues to echo in Gautam Budh Nagar, with the district recording a slight increase in their population, a recent forest department survey has revealed.
The summer census of the district forest department on June 25, 2019, recorded the presence of a total of 140 sarus cranes across five forest ranges and wetlands in Gautam Budh Nagar, of which 114 were adults and 26, chicks. The winter census held in December 2018 had recorded a total of 113 sarus cranes roosting in the same ranges, of which there were a total of 94 adults and nine chicks.
The birders, however, don’t find the numbers impressive.
“It’s a good sign that their numbers are up since last winter. There is a huge potential of conservation of the sarus crane, especially in Dhanauri where the maximum number of sarus were sighted,” Pramod Kumar Srivastava, divisional forest officer, Gautam Budh Nagar, said.
With the population of sarus crane on a decline worldwide, it has been listed as ‘vulnerable’ under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list, with human activities, habitat loss, predation by feral dogs, mongoose and snakes, and hunting being counted as the major threats to the species.
A non-migratory bird species that lives up to 15 to 20 years and grows up to a height of six feet (1.8m to 1.9m), sarus crane population in India is estimated to be about 8,000, as of 2017.
The bird is mainly found across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, West Bengal and the north-eastern states.
Experts keep the sarus numbers at about 1,500 in low-lying regions of Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, while the bird is now extinct in Bangladesh.
There are about 2,500 sarus cranes in Australia.
With light grey plumage and a greenish crown, sarus cranes also have a distinctive red skin covering their head and upper neck.
The species mostly lives and breeds in and around wetlands as well as marshy areas, small lakes and cultivated land with the presence of water, like paddy fields.
According to birder Anand Arya, sarus cranes are considered as one of the best predictors of monsoon, and breeds around August, lays about two eggs and the chicks take flight within three months of hatching.
The sarus mate for life, in what the birders call ‘strict pairing’, where a male and female stick together for life and break up only in the rarest of rare cases.
“They have a pair bond maintenance strategy, in which the pair only breaks if an individual grows weak after years of pairing, but that is very rare,” Dr Anil Kumar from Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) said.
Urging nature lovers to go spot the sarus as the male of the species would soon be seen engaged in a courtship dance to attract females, birders said Dhanuari wetland is best suited for spotting the cranes which feed on aquatic plants, grains, small vertebrates and insects.
“Dhanauri is one of the largest roosting places for the sarus in the region. However, there are several threats, as the wetland is still unprotected. In May, I had written to the central government to declare Dhanauri a sarus sanctuary, and comments were sought from the district forest office of Gautam Budh Nagar in this regard — he is yet to give them,” eminent birder Anand Arya said.
Recalling the hunting incident in Dhanauri in 2015, in which chicks were preyed upon, Arya adds that while each nest of sarus has two eggs, seldom do both hatch, due to predation and human activities.
With a large number of sarus foraging and roosting at Dhanauri wetland, conservationists and birders had been long demanding to convert the region into a Sarus sanctuary.
“If the numbers are fewer than 170 in the entire district, it’s not a good sign. On the morning of March 25, 2016, we had counted 148 sarus at Dhanauri. The count was second only to the 213 cranes spotted together near Hardoi district in 1993, which was a long time ago,” Arya said.
The forest officials reiterated that they are in the process of getting Dhanauri wetland recognised as a sarus sanctuary.
If that happens, the wetland would be the second sanctuary for sarus in the world, the first being Lumbini Crane Sanctuary in Nepal.
“We have already initiated the process to get the 31 hectares of Dhanauri wetland recognised as a sarus sanctuary,” Srivastava said.
According to researcher Sipu Kumar of Wildlife Institute of India, the future of sarus in Uttar Pradesh will depend on how well the wetlands are preserved.
“It is found that pairs which had territories with more number of natural wetlands and those with perennial wetlands were most successful in raising the young. Unhealthy wetlands and their illegal conversions, power line collisions, poisoning by industrial and agriculture chemicals are the major threats faced by the sarus,” he said.
Adding to the fears of conservationists and foresters, a recent official survey has revealed that Dhanauri wetland has shrunk to 31 hectares in 2019, against the 76.66 hectares in 2015.