The Ecology, Rural Development and Sustainability (ERDS) Foundation — a non-profit organisation working on environment, biodiversity and community issues in Thar Desert, Rajasthan — has conducted a Great Indian Bustard Conservation programme through community participation, engaging more than 1,000 students from 15 schools in Rajasthan.
The bird is listed as Critically Endangered by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with the total adult population of this species being only 150 (as per the last population census done by Wildlife Institute of India, State Forest Department and MoEFCC in 2018). Of these 150, around 122 are in Jaisalmer and the remaining 28 adult birds are found in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Telangana. The recent census by Gujarat FD states that there are only five females in Naliya area of Kutchh in Gujarat.
Dr Mamta Rawat, director of ERDS says, “This bird roams in a very large area, around 7,000 sq km area is currently used by it. More than 85 percent of this comes under community owned landscape and the Forest Department does not have any protected area to intervene. Since this bird largely roams in community owned or community dominated areas, the support of local communities is crucial. This was the main reason why ERDS decided to conduct a community participation project for in-situ GIB conservation in western Rajasthan. Our vision is to make a GIB friendly landscape and work towards In-situ Conservation concept.”
The project was initiated in 2015 when Dr Sumit Dookia, honorary scientific advisor, initiated the Nature Guide Training programme with the forest department for 25 youths (18 to 22 years of age) of DNP villages (Desert National Park), i.e. revenue villages in the boundary of DNP. It was largely centred around training the youths on local biodiversity, flora, fauna, birding, communication with tourists.
“Since GIB moves around in a very large landscape, the ERDS Foundation team started exploring other areas and had dialogues with many other areas where GIB is regularly sighted. All these areas had their own issues and to cope up with them, we decided to start an awareness project by educating school children in GIB Arc Landscape, outside the DNP area. The GIB Arc Landscape is an area where this critically endangered bird isl regularly sighted and after 2012, its found only in the northern part of DNP protected area in the Jaisalmer city and from Ramdeora-Pokhran area to Jodhpur district border. So from 2017 onward we started focusing in this Ramdeora-Pokhran area. The current project awareness project is in this part only,” says Dr Rawat.
Fifteen schools in the GIB Arc Landscape participated in the programme. The schools were given some infrastructure support in the form of few school office related articles and students related articles. This initiative was supported by ‘Tiger Watch’ Organization, based at Ranthambhore, Rajasthan.”They supported all the expenditure of this activity, which was Rs. 5 lakh. The response was very positive and we are doing such types of activities time to time in few of these schools in the Pokhran area. Activities included GIB conservation campaign movie show, lecture by our team members, discussion with students, painting activity, one-minute session by students in the end and the winner was awarded with study material.”
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