Nigel J. Collar
Leventis Fellow in Conservation Biology,
Date: 25th September, 2013
Time: 05:45 P.M
Ravi Sankaran Memorial Lecture
Bustards are beautiful birds with a great diversity of intriguing and exhilarating behaviours; but they are very bad news for conservationists. Instead of inhabiting places like forests or lakes, relatively easy to protect, they live in grasslands and traditional old-style farmland. But they cannot perch in trees, so they spend every night on the ground, which means they have to be super-wary to avoid predators; this makes them wary of everything, and they retreat at the slightest disturbance. Not only that but they’re good to eat, and, worse, they fly at just the same height that we hang our powerlines. Consequently, everywhere on earth their numbers are dropping and conservationists face multiple challenges in how to save them. As the world human population grows and demands to be fed (over 200,000 extra mouths every day) the pressure of modern intensive agriculture on natural grasslands and old farmland is irresistible, and as governments attempt to distribute power to their peoples so transmission lines are becoming standard features of every open landscape where bustards live. Perhaps then it is no surprise that India, where 1.24 billion people depend on farmland for their survival, holds the most threatened species of bustard: Asian Houbara Chlamydotis macqueenii, Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis, Lesser Florican Sypheotides indica and Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps, the latter three breeding there and the latter two found nowhere else. India thus has a huge challenge to meet, and some choices to make in how to do so. Recent studies of Asian Houbara in Uzbekistan and Bengal Florican in Cambodia, concerning population assessment, satellite telemetry, habitat assessment, grazing effects and conservation measures, can perhaps help show how key data on all four species in India might be generated in order to plan their long-term security. The needs of each species will be considered in turn, and the issue of captive breeding for the Great Indian Bustard explored. India has a long and proud tradition of species conservation, but with so many demands on its land can it crack this desperately urgent issue?