Two years ago, the Supreme Court ordered Gujarat to relocate some of its Asiatic lions to Madhya Pradesh — it’s yet to do so. Now Gujarat finds itself at the wrong end of a similar tug-of-war among BJP-ruled states with Rajasthan refusing to send eggs of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB) to Kutch for breeding.
On October 17, sources said, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje instructed Rajasthan wildlife officials during a state wildlife board meeting that no GIB eggs were to be shared with Gujarat. Instead, the state forest department has been asked to request the Centre for a breeding and research centre for Rajasthan’s state bird near Jaisalmer in the Desert National Park (DNP), sources added.
When contacted, Rajasthan’s chief wildlife warden R K Tyagi refused to comment on the issue.
The GIB habitat improvement and conservation breeding programme, to be implemented by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in collaboration with the Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra forest departments, proposes to collect eggs from the wild, transport these to Kutch to build a breeding population and subsequently release captive-bred birds.
The Centre has sanctioned Rs 35 crore for five years under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) for the project.
The GIB is critically endangered with less than 200 remaining in the wild, mostly in Rajasthan. In 2013, Rajasthan launched Project Bustard with limited success. The state is in the process of redrawing the DNP boundaries by excluding disturbed areas and adding less crowded pockets suitable for GIB conservation.
“What is the rationale behind the proposal for sending eggs all the way to Kutch when 90 per cent of the birds are in one area in Rajasthan? Why has Gujarat lost almost all its GIBs if conservation efforts have been so efficient there? We need to get real or we are looking at extinction of the species in less than 10 years,” said renowned bird author Bikram Grewal, a member of the Rajasthan wildlife board.
Noted ornithologist Dr Asad Rahmani, however, does not see any merit in Rajasthan’s “possessiveness”. “Kutch still has good grasslands which can be further protected with the introduction of GIBs. If Rajasthan is so keen, how did the bird disappear from so many areas in the Thar desert? There is pride in saving a species by collaboration, not in keeping it to oneself and doing little to protect it,” he said.
WII scientist and the project leader Dr Y V Jhala said the location of the breeding centre should be based on scientific considerations. “Being close to the coast, the site chosen in Mandvi, Kutch, provides the ideal moisture, temperature and vegetation throughout the year to maximise egg laying in GIB. Jaisalmer might not be the optimal location for a breeding centre because it is too dry and hot to ensure productivity,” he said.
Dr S K Khanduri, IG (wildlife), Ministry of Environment and Forests, remains hopeful. “The project requires an agreement between the three states and WII. We have not heard from Rajasthan yet, not in writing. All of us need to work together as time is running out for the GIB,” he said.
According to the Centre’s breeding programme plan, once the eggs are transported from Rajasthan and a breeding population is established in Kutch, priority will be given to Rajasthan’s DNP areas for the release of captive-bred birds.
In the next stage, conservation areas will be identified in Gujarat and Maharashtra for release while breeding centres will come up in Rajasthan as well.
“We will collect eggs from the wild instead of catching a few birds because captured GIBs usually do not recover from the shock to breed in captivity. So we’ll hatch and rear them in captivity,” said an official involved in planning the project.
“A few of our staff will train in Abu Dhabi where they have successfully bred hundreds of houbara bustards (in cages). Our focus is on rearing the birds in natural enclosures so that they have a better chance of survival in the wild after release,” the official said.
A similar tussle between Gujarat and another BJP-ruled state Madhya Pradesh appeared to have resolved in April 2013 when the Supreme Court ordered relocation of a few lion prides from the Gir forest to the Kuno wildlife sanctuary to ensure that the endangered species is not confined to a single location.
The Gujarat government filed a curative petition which was dismissed by the Supreme Court last August. Two Gujarat NGOs have moved court challenging the relocation order since.
According to official figures provided by the Gujarat government, the number of Asiatic lions rose to 523 in 2015 from 411 in 2010.
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