Even as India moved proposals to include the great Indian bustard, Asiatic elephants and Bengal florican in the Appendix-I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) at the ongoing 13th Conference of Parties (COP13) to the CMS, experts expressed concerns about safety of their habitats within the country due to power transmission lines and roads. They stressed that efforts to mitigate climate change can result in pressures on wildlife if energy project siting is not done carefully.
Addressing a workshop on the sidelines of the COP13 at the Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, Yadvendradev Jhala, dean of Wildlife Institute of India, said India needed to make habitats of tigers, elephants and GIB safe for these species. “We need to create safe habitats. Habitats are there but habitats are not safe due to powerlines,” said Jhala while speaking on Indian initiatives for conservation of tigers and GIBs.
India moves proposal to list great Indian bustard on CMS Appendix-I. Many countries including Saudi Arabia support the proposal. No objections raised.Round of applause as committee of the whole of #CMSCOP13 adopts the proposal&sends it to plenary for final adoption @IndianExpress
— Gopal Kateshiya (@gopalreports) February 20, 2020
Jhala said that while tiger population was recovering in the country, India needed to now focus on habitat connectivity which is threatened by development of roads and railways. He said that such projects should be permeable for wildlife. He also said that power lines in grasslands of Kutch district of Gujarat and Rajasthan, the main habitat of the critically endangered GIB were a major threat to these birds. “Five to 15 (GIB) birds die annually from power line collisions. Our research in Thar has shown that we lose about 1,00,000 birds in the Desert National Park area of 4,000 square kilometres (in Rajasthan). This is phenomenal, all birds, not just bustards. We need to stem this mortality by taking power lines underground,” said the researcher.
The scientist added that there were less than 1,000 GIBs in 1970s but this has come down to around 150. “Major problem here is power line collision, historical hunting and introduction of exotic predators which remove chicks and nests in plane areas where these birds breed,” he said, adding desert areas which form part of the GIB has high-density of dog population – 10 dogs per 100 sqkm.
GIBs are very slow breeders, Jhala said and warned that unnatural death of even a single adult bird can mean very huge loss for the species. He said that forest department has taken up in-situ conservation measures like setting up structures which make nests inaccessible to predators. “But because all these in-situ measures will take time and we may not have time for the bustards, we have started a conservation breeding programme in collaboration with Rajasthan forest department and the International Fund for Houbara Conservation,” said Jhala adding as part of the project, nine GIB eggs were harvested from the wild, their hatching has remained successful and that chicks have grown into juveniles.
WII is the premier wildlife research institute run by the Indian government.
Jhala said that they have identified important bird movement corridors. “Bird diverters is one way to address power line collisions. We satellite-tagged many of these birds in Desert National Park and mapped their movements to determine their exact paths and the power lines which are barriers in their movement. This has helped us in limiting the investments of understanding these power lines should be done,” he said while also noting that the Supreme Court had recently ordered taking power lines underground.
He said that status of lesser florican, another bustard species occurring in the country was also a major concern “We estimate the population to be around 1000 individuals only. So, we do not want to wait till these birds become 100. We would like to start breeding programmes for them,” said Jhala adding “the future of bustards in India – we may save them from becoming extinct but if we may ever be able to repopulate in our lost landscape of bustards would depend on the people of India and how much we compromise our developmental agenda with what is required by these bird.”
Speaking at another event organised by the Energy Task Force of the CMS, Ruby Ojha, environmental and social development specialist with the International Finance Corporation, said that solar and wind power plants of cumulative 5,000 MW capacity were at various stages of development in Kutch district.
Ramesh Selvaraj, a scientist with the Bombay Natural History Society, an Indian NGO working for conservation of wild animals said that their study in Samakhiyali area of Kutch, where a large number of wind turbines have been installed, recorded 47 cases of deaths of birds after hitting the turbines over a period of three years.
Meanwhile, international experts suggested that core habitats must be avoided for energy projects. “Due to climate change, there has been focus on renewable energy. However, we now know that infrastructure associated with production and distribution of renewal energy may pose great risks to species, ecosystems and migratory species in particular,” said Josef Tumbrinck, deputy director general of directorate of Nature Conservation of Germany.
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