Wildlife & Biodiversity

Two female Great Indian Bustards satellite-tagged in Rajasthan

Scientists hope to get critical information on the birds through the satellite tags

 
By Rajat Ghai
Last Updated: Monday 22 April 2019
Photo: Forest Department Of Gujarat
Representational Image. Photo: Forest Department Of Gujarat Representational Image. Photo: Forest Department Of Gujarat

Two female Great Indian Bustards (GIBs) have been satellite-tagged in the Desert National Park (DNP) in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer district.

“Yes. We have indeed done this in the last two weeks,” YV Jhala, senior professor and scientist from the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) confirmed to Down To Earth (DTE).

The technique of satellite telemetry has been used for a long time in the last century to track the movements of birds. It usually involves a bird being fitted with a satellite transmitter weighing 170 grammes. Today, GPS technology is being used, giving scientists even more precise data.

“In Rajasthan, there are two populations of the GIB,” said Sumit Dookia, assistant professor at Delhi’s Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. “One is in Pokhran and the other in the DNP. There is a distance 150-170 kilometres between the two places, as the crow flies. GIBs fly between these two pockets. They also fly over the international border to Pakistan (the Cholistan desert near Bahawalpur) and southwest to Kutch. But we do not know what route they take,” he added.

Dookia explains that using satellite tagging, scientists can know what route the birds take on their flights as well as what problems they face. “We can also know whether all these populations are interacting with one another or not,” he said.   

The satellite tagging of the GIBs in Rajasthan is the third such attempt in India. “It has been done in this very decade, first in Maharashtra-Karnataka and then in Kutch,” said Dookia.

Both the experiments yielded crucial information. “The Kutch satellite tagging showed that GIBs do not use habitat where there are windmills. In the Maharashtra-Karnataka study, which was conducted in the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary in Nannaj in Solapur district that borders north Karnataka, it was found that the birds spent some time in the sanctuary and the rest outside it. This led scientists to conclude that GIBs need mixed-landscape habitat. Thus, satellite-tagging gives crucial information for formulation of any action plan,” said Dookia.

Besides tracking the movements of the birds, the scientists also hope to take out the egg of the bird from its nest and try to incubate it in an especially-created incubation facility.

Harsh Vardhan, founder-director, Tourism and Wildlife Society of India, Jaipur told DTE, “This conservation breeding was mooted in 1980 when an international symposium on bustards was held in Jaipur. However, subsequent researchers led a sheer research-oriented approach and undermined breeding protocol. What has been initiated now raises a new science-based conservation strategy for this bird, the total number of which has declined to about 100 and mind you, is the global population”.

In the past, critics have attacked satellite tagging, citing espionage as a reason. However, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden Arindam Tomar brushed off any apprehensions.

“I gave the permission for tagging as I feel it is the right thing to do. We need to track their movement. We want to know about their habits, the time spent by them on feeding, which areas they go to and finally breed them and revive their population. This is only possible with satellite-tagging. As for espionage, I would say it is just a satellite tag. A GPS equipment; there are no cameras. It only tracks the birds’ movement. It is harmless,” he told DTE.

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