Wildlife & Biodiversity

Noise Pollution: An ignored element in Great Indian Bustard conservation

Along with all other measures to revive Great Indian Bustard numbers, the aspect of regulating noise pollution levels needs to be incorporated

By Anish Tore
Published: Thursday 20 June 2019
Representational Image. Photo: Forest Department Of Gujarat

The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is one of the few species that the Government of India has included in its ‘recovery programme for critically endangered species’. With less than 200 GIBs remaining in the world, most of them found in Rajasthan’s ‘Desert National Park’, we are on the brink of forever losing a majestic bird species, which was once a strong contender to be declared as India’s National Bird.

Habitat loss & fragmentation, change of land use pattern, desertification, ill-thought plantation of exotic & invasive species in grassland ecosystems, neglect of state institutions due to classification of ‘grasslands’ as ‘wastelands’, conversion of grasslands to agriculture lands due to increasing irrigation potential and decline of nature/GIB-friendly agrarian practices, are all commonly and correctly blamed for the steady decline in India’s GIB population.

Corrective measures to help the GIB bounce back from the brink of extinction, as part of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitat’ scheme, have been termed by some experts as ‘too little, too late’.

However, the role of noise pollution, as a factor which is adversely affecting the prospects of the GIB’s revival, is seldom mentioned in the discourse regarding GIB conservation. Without paying adequate attention to this aspect, other efforts to conserve the GIB might fail to bear fruit.

Sources of noise pollution

The realisation that noise pollution could be a possible factor which has adversely impacted the revival of GIB struck me on account of the observations I made as a volunteer-participant in the ‘Great Indian Bustard Census’, organised by the Maharashtra forest department at Nannaj in the district of Solapur district on September 25, 2013.

The observations were:

  • Located just outside the boundary wall of the GIB sanctuary is the bustling village of Nannaj, which has a considerable population and moderate to heavy traffic.
  • The existence of small villages & settlements of farming communities within the sanctuary. These settlements are connected by motorable roads, which are frequented by private vehicles.
  • Those who settle inside the GIB sanctuary, are mostly farmers. During the sowing season in the monsoon months, the use of tractors has become common.
  • The use of mega sound systems during religious or marriage processions in Nannaj village.

All the above-mentioned factors are sources of high decibel sound, which can be ocassionally heard within the boundaries of the GIB sanctuary.

How does noise affect the GIB

We must first understand the mating and courtship practices of the GIB. The male GIB inflates his 'gular' pouch (near the neck) which almost touches the ground, in order to produce a large booming sound which reverberates across the grassland. The male GIB does this to attract GIB females and to inform them of his exact location in the vast expanse of the grassland.

It is necessary for the male to produce such a large deep sound because of two reasons; firstly, the males are mostly solitary during the breeding season. Thus, they have to make an active attempt to attract females.

And secondly, as I experienced during the census, GIBs rarely confine themselves to the boundaries of the GIB sanctuary. They roam freely in the neighbouring jowar or groundnut fields, looking for insects. Thus, the sound of the male GIB should be loud enough to transcend the walls of the sanctuary and be audible to female GIBs in the fields nearby.

The noise generated by human activities, whether be it by vehicles, tractors, music during processions, firecrackers, may interfere with the GIB’s mating call and drown it out.

The above scenario would be nothing less than a tragedy, given the fact that the rate of reproduction amongst GIBs is very low; the female GIB lays only one egg per year. This solitary egg is under threat from natural predators of the grasslands such as jackals, hyenas or foxes or invasive species such as crows or feral dogs. In such a scenario, every opportunity the GIBs lose to mate, pushes the species closer to extinction.

Secondly, though the Rajasthan government has recently stated that it will setup two GIB captive breeding centres in Kota and Jaisalmer, captive breeding of GIBs has been long discussed but has been difficult to realise till date.

Besides, there always remains the question whether captive-bred animals can be adequately trained by humans to survive in the wild. The success of captive breeding initiatives of Houbara bustards in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, provides a ray of hope.

The best course of action to guarantee the GIB's revival, is to remove impediments in its natural breeding cycle, including noise barriers.

No more bans please

Now that we are effectively in the last stages of GIB conservation, where the possibility of extinction of this magnificent species seems very real, we can expect some knee jerk reactions from the authorities, who might want to highlight their intent to conserve the few remaining GIBs.

This might take the form of restrictions on the entry of vehicles inside the sanctuary, to bans on the use of noisy sound equipment by villagers. Such diktats are often difficult to implement and rather cause a lot of ill-will in the minds of villagers regarding GIB conservation.

Along with all other measures to revive GIB numbers, the aspect of regulating noise pollution levels needs to be incorporated. This may include techno-fixes such as retro-fitting vehicles/tractors in the area with advanced ‘super-quiet’ silencers, and co-ordinating with the people and their local leaders to ensure that any procession or ceremony during the pre-monsoon & monsoon period would not make use of high noise making equipment.

Unless the villagers’ basic developmental aspirations are linked & simultaneously fulfilled hand-in-hand with GIB conservation, it would be foolish to expect their full-fledged support to this cause. Ensuring this minimal & justified expectation does not require rocket science. Sometimes, small steps can help us achieve great things. Bringing a species back from the brink of extinction is a great thing, no doubt!

Our silence may make the male GIB's mating call finally audible to his partner.

Anish Tore is a student of Natural and Social sciences and has completed his Masters in Political Science from the University of Pune

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