To arrest the decline in numbers of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), a critically endangered species, the forest department has attempted to create a more safe environment for the bird by neutering dogs in and around the core areas of the Bustard sanctuary in Kutch.
It should be noted that as per a list released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the GIB figures in the list of Critically Endangered Birds in the country. Less than 200 birds are believed to be left in the country with Rajasthan accounting for the highest number of birds at 100. The second highest number of the birds is found in Gujarat. In 2007 a state census had pegged the number of birds in Gujarat at 48.
DFO, Kutch, PA Vihol said that a pilot project is being carried out to neuter dogs in the core villages where the Bustard population is found. “We will begin with two villages in the core areas having maximum bustard population. We will also be carrying out a socio-economic survey in the 48 villages that form the 1,000 sq km area in which the bird species roam. This is because we plan to implement the project with people's participation,” said Vihol.
He said the department was also looking at fencing the bustard area and had recently carried out removal of gando baval from the area. Gando baval or Prosopis juliflora is an invasive weed that had threatened the semi-arid grassland that is favoured by the bird.
As for the neutering the stray dogs, Vihol said that the canines are a big threat to the birds, often attacking the birds and even eating their eggs. “Bustards are shy birds that like to breed in isolation. Moreover, they give just one egg in a year and this is also the reason why their numbers are limited. The dogs often chase the birds who breed outside the sanctuary area and this disturbs their breeding pattern,” Vihol said.
The forest department is carrying out the project in association with the Corbett Foundation. A survey had found that there are around 853 dogs in 20 villages in the core area (the area covering the sanctuary and its surrounding places) of which around 300 are adult male dogs.
Member of the state-level Bustard Conservation Committee, Devesh Gadhvi said that it was important to counter the population of stray dogs. “Stray dogs pose a threat not only to the Bustards, but also to the Desert Fox in Kutch. The dogs chase the nesting bustards and the female then gives up on the eggs. The dogs also kill the young ones of the fox,” said Gadhvi. He said many of the dogs are community-owned (community or village feeds them) and hence it was important to have people's participation.
“Moreover the high number of dogs also pose a threat to the villages. All dogs that will be neutered will also be given anti-rabies vaccines. This project will benefit both the birds and the people as well,” said Gadhvi, who revealed that around 3,500 people were victims of dog-bites in Bhuj alone in a year.
He said apart from these efforts it was necessary to look at captive breeding of the birds if the declining numbers have to be arrested. “The forest department's recent effort to clear the grassland of Gando Baval bore fruit as within seven days the birds were seen visiting the newly cleared place,” said Gadhvi.