Habitat improvement and conservation breeding of great Indian bustard: an integrated approach


Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps (hereafter GIB) is one of the rarest birds in world. With 200 individuals left, almost exclusively in India, the species is listed as Critically Endangered and Schedule I (Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972). Their populations have steadily declined and are facing imminent extinction risk unless effective management interventions are urgently implemented.  Excessive hunting in past and current levels of habitat loss, compounded with very slow life-history traits, has caused their decline. The largest population of about 150 birds occurs in Thar Desert, Rajasthan. Other populations are less than 15 birds each, occurring in Kachchh (Gujarat), Solapur and Chandrapur (Maharashtra), Kurnool (Andhra Pradesh) and Bellary (Karnataka). The species inhabits open habitats (short grasslands, open scrub and rain-fed agriculture) and breed in traditionally selected grasslands, where males display to attract females. Breeding habitats are a mosaic of short and tall vegetation with little disturbance. Their non-breeding usage is vast and seasonal movement patterns are poorly known. Although the species avoids intensive development, they are compatible with traditional, low-intensity land uses that can create win-win conservation situations.

National Guidelines for Recovery of Bustards 2013 advocated a multi-pronged approach involving: a) stringent protection and research-informed management of breeding enclosures, b) coexistence with compatible land uses and mitigation of unfriendly land uses in priority habitats of adjoining landscapes identified through research, c) participation of local communities in conservation through incentives and outreach, and d) establishment of captive population as insurance against extinction and possible reintroduction. Although State Forest Departments have initiated some conservation actions following these recommendations; multiple ownerships, uses and threats in bustard landscapes needs collaborative efforts of various state and non-state agencies in achieving these tasks. To facilitate this process, an overarching project that integrates the components mentioned in National Guidelines for Recovery of Bustards with funding support from National Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Advisory Council will be undertaken in collaboration with State Governments, local NGOs and research organizations to pool knowledge/expertise and ensure timely and effective actions. Since great Indian bustard and lesser florican – both endangered bustards – share habitats, these activities will supplement and complement each other’s needs. In doing so, a plethora of other endangered wildlife such as the spiny-tailed lizard, chinkara and foxes will be benefitted.


1. Conservation Breeding

To secure captive populations of great Indian bustard and lesser florican as insurance against extinction and (if possible) reintroduce captive birds in wild

2. Applied research

To prioritize conservation areas, characterizing threats, assess population and habitat status, assess effectiveness of management actions, understand local communities’ livelihood concerns to balance land use and conservation goals, and understand population genetics to inform conservation management

3. Capacity-building and outreach

To improve protection enforcement, sensitize stakeholders on bustard conservation importance and requirements, and incentivize local land users to adopt bustard-friendly land uses

4. Pilot implementation of surgical habitat management

To demonstrate best habitat improvement practices through experimental interventions that can be replicated by State Forest Departments