Civil works by forest officials was causing disturbance to the bustard in Siruguppa, one of the critically endangered bird’s roosting and breeding habitats.

Great Indian Bustard in Siruguppa of Karnataka’s Ballari districtPic by Dr Samad Kottur
news Conservation Thursday, June 25, 2020 - 18:21

At a time when the Supreme Court has expressed concerns about the declining numbers of the Critically Endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB), one of its roosting and breeding habitats – in Siruguppa of Karnataka’s Ballari, home turf of the state’s Minister for Forests and Environment Anand Singh – is under serious threat, conservationists fear. Forest officials are carrying out civil works such as construction of watch towers, anti-poaching camps (APCs) and water holes causing disturbance to the birds.

Anand Singh represents the Hospet Assembly seat in Ballari district and is the district in-charge minister.

The GIBs have moved away owing to the disturbance from the civil works in its habitat (grasslands) in Siruguppa, spread over around 250 acres in five patches, fears former honorary wildlife warden of Ballari district Santosh Martin.

Martin explains that around 150 GIBs survive in the country and about 15 of them are in Siruguppa. He says that the construction of five water holes in its core habitat is totally unwanted since GIBs do not need a great amount of water to survive. Coexisting with GIBs in Siruguppa are Black bucks, who also don’t need much water and have adapted to survive without water even in harsh summers.

The conservationist is also worried since the anti-poaching camps and watch towers have been built in the GIB’s breeding sites. He fears that the breeding sites may be lost if forest officials do not bring the structures down.

Pointing out other instances where GIBs disappeared, Martin says that similar civil works taken up in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh forced the bustards out of their habitats. Yet the Ballari officials don’t seem to have learnt a lesson.

Forest officials, on condition of anonymity, said that the civil works were taken up based on directions from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and that water holes were dug to make sure that there is water supply for animals such as hyenas, jackals, among others.

Moreover, the officials said the GIB’s habitat in Siruguppa is surrounded by agricultural fields and these critically endangered birds are safe in the grasslands that form their habitat, brushing aside fears of any danger to the GIBs due to the civil works.

They added that anti-poaching camps were being constructed to check poaching activities in the area since poachers from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh came to hunt deer for meat, while watch towers were to help keep tabs on the movement of poachers. The officials also denied that GIBs have moved away from the area and claim that they recently sighted four GIBs near the anti-poaching camps.

Forest officials added that GIBs have continued to stay in the grasslands despite huge water tanks that were built in the vicinity by the zilla panchayat under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA), among other disturbances.

However, conservationist Dr Samad Kottur says he has not sighted a single GIB on his last four visits to the area after the civil works started. Dr Kottur is a member of the Advisory Committee on the Great Indian Bustard appointed by the Supreme Court to facilitate the flow of information about these critically endangered birds from the state. He attributed the lack of sightings to the enormous human activities in the breeding and roosting habitat of the GIB in Siruguppa.

Among the many suggestions made by Santosh Martin and Dr Kottur to forest officials is the demolition of anti-poaching camps and water towers, and the removal of electric poles in the GIB’s habitat. Besides, they said no planting of saplings should be undertaken in order to conserve the grassland ecosystem for the long-term conservation of GIBs in Siruguppa.

“If the erected structures are demolished, then we can hope that the GIBs will come back to their habitat,” says Martin.

Ballari Deputy Conservator of Forests Siddaramappa on Tuesday said a committee has been formed involving experts on GIBs and forest officials to work closely to conserve the birds.

“As of now, we have stopped all civil works in the GIB habitat. Pits dug up to plant saplings have been refilled with mud,” Siddaramappa stated and expressed confidence that all concerns would be addressed.

State Minister for Forests and Environment Anand Singh could not be contacted for comment.

Girisha is a freelancer who writes on wildlife and the environment.

All pictures by Dr Samad Kottur

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