The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) is on the verge of being declared functionally extinct—its numbers have now dwindled to just 150, falling by 100 since 2011. The GIB, at present, is native to just two Indian states, Rajasthan and Gujarat—in Gujarat, the last surviving sub-adult male flew away this year, which means a complete collapse of the bird’s feeble presence in the state is imminent. The Thar Desert and the grasslands had been home to these birds for years now. However, a lack of political will on the part of the states’ administration, and development projects like windmills and power lines have caused the avian species to teeter on the edge of extinction. The Centre’s push to conserve the bird came only after the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categorised the bird as “critically endangered” in July 2013. But, the conservation efforts never took off and development is proving to be the last straw.
No efforts have been made to conserve the grasslands—the natural habitat of GIBs—nor has there been an effort to put the power transmission lines underground to prevent bird-collision. Flying into power transmission lines and windmills is a major factor behind the bustard’s decline. Ex situ conservation to increase the numbers of the endangered species has been attempted and the tips of the blades of wind turbines have been coloured to make them visible to the birds at night; but there is a great deal of uncertainty over the results of such efforts. Another issue, to which there is no easy solution in sight, is the fact that farmers have successfully caused locust infestations to crash—and locusts and grasshoppers are an essential part of the bustard’s diet. Also, many bird-deaths have occurred due to the bustards eating locusts killed by pesticides. With one of the fastest mass extinctions in the history of the planet underway, the bustard faces a slim chance against the march of agriculture and development.