ESZ proposed for bustard sanctuary in Maharashtra

In a fresh conservation measure for critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest has proposed the creation of an eco-sensitive zone of nearly 550 sq km around the Great Indian Bustard sanctuary in Maharashtra in an effort to protect the birds from human-induced threats.

In a draft notification published earlier this month (Jan 14), the ministry put forward the contours of a plan to create an eco-sensitive zone of 548.79 km around the Great Indian Bustard Wildlife Sanctuary that spreads over Solapur and Ahmednagar districts.

The sanctuary has an area of 366.72 km, notified by the Maharashtra government in 2016. The notification is open for public comments for 60 days.

This is the third proposed draft of an ESZ around a bustard sanctuary. In the last six years, similar zones were proposed to be established around the bustard sanctuary in Kutch and Thar desert. None of them have materialised so far.

“As far as I know, there is no ESZ around the protected areas for the bustard. The Desert National Park (in Rajasthan) is 3,162 sq km so it is big enough,” said Asad Rahmani, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society, who researched on the Great Indian Bustard for the last 35 years.

India currently has just about 150 of these birds, a majority of which are in the Desert National Park in Rajasthan.

“There are 128 birds (with an error margin of 19 on either side) in Rajasthan; less than 10 birds in Gujarat, about eight birds in Maharashtra and 5-6 birds in Andhra Pradesh. This is according to our 2017-18 report,” Sutirtha Dutta, a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India who studies these birds told DH.

One of the features of the draft notification is a preference for underground cabling in the ESZ around the bustard sanctuary as electrical wires and feral dogs are the two biggest threats to the these birds that are on the brinks of extinction.

"About 18 Great Indian Bustards are likely to die per year in Thar. Such high mortality rate (at least 15% annually due to power lines alone) is unsustainable for the species," says an October 2018 study by the WII

Bustards have a wide sideways vision to maximize predator detection, at the cost of narrow frontal vision. Because of this, and a habit of scanning the ground while flying, they cannot detect power-lines ahead of them, from far.

Being heavy fliers, they also fail to manoeuvre across power lines within close distances. The combination of these traits make them vulnerable to collision with power-lines

The Great Indian Bustards were was once in contention to become India's national bird, but lost out to the peacocks.

With their numbers down to the last few hundreds and extinction threat, the environment ministry sanctioned Rs 33.85 crore for conservation of the bustard, hoping that these birds don't go the Dodo way.

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ESZ proposed for bustard sanctuary in Maharashtra

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