Female Great Indian Bustard, one of estimated 7, dies in Kutch


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The dead bird in Kutch on Wednesday. (Express Photo)

Two days after the 13th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (COP13 CMS), a global body functioning under the aegis of the United Nations, included the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) on its Appendix-I and called for concerted action for its conservation, a female GIB died in Kutch on Tuesday after a lizard was stuck in its throat.

Unofficial estimates suggest that with Tuesday’s death, the number of GIB individuals has plunged to just six GIBs in Kutch, all of them females. As many as 25 birds were counted during the great Indian bustard census conducted in Gujarat in 2016.

Forest officers of Kutch circle said that the bird died while foraging near Bhanada, around 15 km south of the GIB Sanctuary located near Naliya, the headquarters of Nakhatrana taluka of Kutch district. The area falls in the jurisdiction of Kutch (west) forest division.

“Prima facie, this death is due to natural causes. On preliminary examination, the cause of death seems to be choking. A garden lizard was found stuck in the trachea of the bird, leading to its death. However, we shall come to know the exact cause of the death after a formal post mortem,” Anita Karan, Chief Conservator of Forests, Kutch circle, told The Indian Express on Wednesday.

“This is an extremely rare phenomenon. Prima facie, the reptile tried to escape after being preyed on by the bird and in the process, choked the trachea of the bird,” said Tushar Patel, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Kutch (West).

With this, the number of GIBs in Kutch has declined further. “One of our watchmen saw the bird exhibiting unusual behavior. The bird sat awkwardly for a rather long time. The watchman tried to check on the bird but when he reached the spot, it had died. We do not have present population estimation of the birds, but the incident means one bird less” the CCF said.

The CCF said that the female bird was tagged by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the country’s premier wildlife research institute which is leading the government’s GIB recovery programme. It has also been researching the critically endangered bird species in states such as Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Dean of WII, Yadvendradev Jhala confirmed the bird had died due to choking. "The tagged bird died yesterday; it was tagged three years ago. It died due to a lizard getting stuck in its wind pipe. It must have swallowed a live lizard which while struggling to get loose, got into the bird’s wind pipe and choked it. Very unfortunate," said Jhala who is leading the GIB recovery project.

WII scientist Sutirtha Dutta said, “We had tagged two birds. One of them had died in June, 2017 after colliding with a power line, while this one was active. The last transmission was around eight to 10 days back. Thanks to the tag which transmitted data using mobile phone networks, we came to know that the bird had laid two eggs a few months ago. While one egg was damaged, the other was found to be infertile.”

Incidentally, experts at the COP13 CMS held at Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar, had voiced concerns about power transmission lines in Kutch. The last GIB census was conducted in 2014 and the population was estimated to be less than two dozens. An Indian proposal to list the GIB on CMS Appendix-I was approved by COP13 CMS last week, paving the way for trans-boundary efforts for conserving the bird. Pakistan is also a range state of GIB. The Indian proposal for the CMS listing stated the total population of this bird was estimated to be 150 or less.