The administration in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer, the last stronghold of the bird, has sprayed pesticides in the area where it is found, to kill locusts
Locusts as well as other grasshoppers are one of the major food items of the Great Indian Bustard (GIB) in the desert landscape of Rajasthan. Swarms of locusts from West Asian countries come to India through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Locust swarms are not an annual event. The last huge locust swarm was reported in 2010 in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district.
Since last week, sporadic sightings of locusts have been reported from three to four villages around Jaisalmer’s Pokaran area. The villages are Loharki, Suzasar, Ramdeora, Amukhon ki Dhani, Khetolai and the Field Firing range of Pokaran.
According to the ground report provided by Radheshyam Bishnoi and his team of volunteers from the Godawan Community Conservation Project, a community-driven project initiated by the ERDS Foundation with which I am associated as an advisor, the area where the locusts have been sighted, is less than one square kilometre in size. This very area also harbours a good breeding population of the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, the state bird of Rajasthan.
On May 23, 2019, the District Magistrate of Jaisalmer issued directives to the Locust Control Office to take effective control measures to address the issue of locusts. On the evening of May 23, the Locust Control Office staff acted swiftly and sprayed chemical pesticides in the above said area.
The correlation of daily sightings of the Great Indian Bustard in the area is so high that this decision on part of the administration is going to effect the GIBs.
This event has created a serious discussion among the Great Indian Bustard conservation community at the national level. From June onwards, the breeding season of the GIB starts. If any such chemically-killed locusts are eaten by GIBs, they can die due to poisoning, which would be a catastrophic event.
As is well-known, the GIBs are already on the verge of extinction. It is a critically endangered species and the Indian government along with the government of Rajasthan is working towards its conservation since the last many decades. Since 2013, the state Forest Department is working towards breeding it in captivity along with the Centre and the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India. The death of even a single bird is going to be a big loss and make all the efforts of conservationists so far go down the drain.
To address this issue, on May 24, a group of local Godawan Community Conservation Volunteers acted promptly and submitted a letter of concern to the District Magistrate and asked him to address the locust issue with great caution, citing the conservation of the Great Indian Bustard. A similar letter has also been submitted to the Divisional Commissioner of Jodhpur Division, with a request to issue an order for the same.
This step is totally against GIB conservation and could be a death-knell for the species. One only hopes that nothing untoward happens. Or else, all would be lost.
Sumit Dookia is a wildlife biologist working for the conservation of biodiversity of the Thar Desert. He is Assistant Professor, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi
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