Endangered Bustards Fitted With Radio-Tags To Track Flight To Pak

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New Delhi: India has fitted a small backpack with radio-tags on two Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) with an aim to track their flight to Pakistan, where according to wildlife experts they are being hunted down.

In a first of its kind move, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) fitted the tracking machines on two birds – which could soon be migrating to Pakistan – last week. The WII wants to track their flight and plan a strategy based on the evidence, a scientist at the institute said. The institute intends to tag 15 GIBs.

The bustard is an endangered bird which is mostly found along the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan and Gujarat. In 2013, their population was found to be below 200 while a few decades ago their numbers used to be in thousands. Scientists feared that the GIBs’ are killed in Pakistan for consumption because of which their population was declining.

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The GIBs, not bred in Pakistan, migrate to neighbouring Sindh area from Kutch in Gujarat and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. There is no estimate of the GIB population in Pakistan.
The evidence from the radio-tags will be collected through mobile based GPS chips — similar to the ones used to track tigers — which transmit information through a mobile network and a satellite. The devices are kept in a backpack tied to the birds.

“With scientific evidence in hand, we may need to open diplomatic channels or talk to local NGOs to save the bird in Pakistan,” said senior WII scientist YV Jhala, who will oversee India’s first monitoring of the cross-border movement of birds.

Through the radio-tags the WII also wants to find out whether windmills and transmission lines in Rajasthan and Gujarat are also responsible for the GIB’s declining numbers.

“In Rajasthan, apart from the risk of them flying across the border, there’s a risk of them hitting electricity lines near windmills in the desert national park where they are found in large number,” Jhala said.Conservationists have demanded that the power lines in the Desert National Park (DNP) area should be installed underground to prevent deaths of GIBs. On Wednesday, a GIB was electrocuted in Kanoi village area of Jaisalmer after it came in contact with a power line.

Jhala said after monitoring the birds through satellite telemetry, they would install bird diverters on power lines. “The bird cannot see the power lines and runs a risk of hitting them,” he said.

The GIB population has seen a rapid decline due to a loss of habitat and frequent poaching as game bird in states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

The environment ministry has started habitat improvement programme in all states where GIBs are found and the first breeding centre is coming up at the park in Jaisalmer.
“WII has partnered with Rajasthan forest department and UAE’s International Bustard Breeding Agency , for the conservation breeding centre,” Jhala said, adding that the centre would take around two years to build.