This species is listed as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small population that has undergone an extremely rapid decline owing to a multitude of threats including habitat loss and degradation, hunting and direct disturbance. It now requires an urgent acceleration in targeted conservation actions in order to prevent it from becoming functionally extinct within a few decades.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Jones, A. E. 1916. Gyps tenuirostris (Hodgson), the Himalayan Longbilled Vulture, breeding near Ambala, Punjab. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 24: 358.
Distribution and populationArdeotis nigriceps
92-122 cm. Unmistakable, large, brown-and-white bustard with black crown and wing markings. Males have whitish neck and underparts with narrow black breast-band. Females are smaller, with greyer neck and typically no breast-band. Voice Booming moans during display and barking or bellowing sounds when alarmed.
occurs in the Indian Subcontinent, with former strongholds in the Thar desert in the north-west and the Deccan tableland of the Peninsula (BirdLife International 2001). It has been extirpated from 90% of its former range and is now principally confined to Rajasthan (c.175 birds, although only 89 were recorded during winter surveys in 2012 [Times of India 2012]), with smaller populations (fewer than 30 birds) in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and fewer than 5 birds in Madhya Pradesh, India
Recent declines have been noted in several areas, including Maharashtra (Kasambe et al.
2006, P. Patil in litt
. 2011) and Kachchh (Dutta in litt.
2012). In Maharashtra, the latest population estimates suggest a population as low as 30 individuals (Kasambe et al
. 2006) and numbers have been falling in the Bustard Sanctuary since at least the late 1980s, with the 2010 census recording only 9 individuals, and breeding has not been recorded there since 2007 at least (P. Patil in litt
. 2011). In Kachchh the latest population estimate is fewer than 20 birds at densities of 0.05 per km2
in c.400 km2
of suitable habitat (Dutta in litt.
2012). The species is likely to be close to disappearing from Karnataka (Kumara and Mohan Raj 2007), and it is thought to have completely disappeared from the states of Haryana, Punjab, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, India, but some apparently survive, and are hunted, in Sind, Pakistan (Khan et al
. 2008, Dutta et al
. 2010, B. Lechleiter in litt.
Its total population has declined from an estimated 1,260 individuals in 1969 to c.300 individuals in 2008 (Dutta et al
. 2010), equivalent to a reduction of c.82% over 47 years (three generations), assuming an exponential trend. The results of a recent genetic study, in which the effective population size was estimated from the diversity of mitochondrial DNA, provide support for an estimate of fewer than 1,000 birds, and likely about 500 during the period 2006-2010, when samples were collected (Ishtiaq et al
. 2011). This study found very low genetic diversity for such a widespread species, probably owing to a bottleneck event caused by its widespread extermination possibly even before the mid 19th century (Ishtiaq et al.
2011). Population viability analysis predicts a high probability of local extinction within 50 years for populations numbering fewer than 30 individuals, with the more secure population of over 100 individuals showing sensitivity to the loss of one additional adult each year to human causes, indicating that present levels of off-take are unsustainable (Dutta et al
. 2010). Current levels of hunting may result in the extinction of even the largest western Indian population in the next 15-20 years (Dutta et al
. 2010).Population justification
The species's total population was estimated at c.300 individuals in 2008, indicating that there are probably fewer than 250 mature individuals remaining, hence the population is placed in the band 50-249 mature individuals.Trend justification
Population estimates of c.1,260 individuals in 1969 (Dharmakumarsinhji 1971 in Dutta et al
. 2010) and c.300 individuals in 2008 (Dutta et al
. 2010) suggest that the species has undergone a decline equivalent to c.82% over 47 years (estimate of three generations), assuming an exponential trend. The results of population viability analysis (Dutta et al
. 2010) lend some support to a predicted decline of over 50% during the next 47 years if no additional conservation actions are taken.Ecology
It inhabits arid and semi-arid grasslands with scattered short scrub, bushes and low intensity cultivation in flat or gently undulating terrain. Birds congregate in traditional grassland patches (mostly identified) which are less disturbed, to breed during mid-summer and monsoon. It nests in open ground, laying only one clutch (consisting of one and very rarely two eggs) per year. Outside of breeding season, it probably makes local and possibly long distance nomadic movements (largely unknown) in response to various factors, using areas rich in food resources and surrounded by natural grass-scrub habitat for easy navigation. It requires different microhabitat envelopes for different activities, such as grasslands with relatively tall (vegetation 25-100cm) and dense cover, high insect resources and less grazing for nesting; short sparse vegetation (<25 cm vegetation) on slightly elevated ground for display; sparse vegetation (<25 cm vegetation) with minimal scrub for roosting; and moderate (25-50 cm vegetation) shade for resting (Rahmani 1989, Dutta in litt.
2012).ThreatsHistorically, widespread hunting for sport and food precipitated its decline, accelerated by vehicular access to remote areas. High intensity poaching still continues in Pakistan (which is probably shared with western Rajasthan and Kachchh populations), where 49 birds were hunted out of 63 that were sighted over a period of 4 years (Khan et al. 2008). Some poaching continues in India as well (Sridhar 2005, Dutta et al. 2010, P. Patil in litt. 2011, Anon. 2013a), including one documented case where mine-workers that lost their livelihoods when mines near Gwalior were closed for the creation of the Ghatigaon Bustard Sanctuary hunted bustards to undermine the criteria on which the area was first designated as a sanctuary (Sridhar 2005). Egg-collecting was rampant in many states during early 19th century, and prevails very sporadically in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (P. Patil in litt. 2011).
However, the current threats are mostly from habitat loss and degradation, caused by; 1) widespread agricultural expansion and mechanization of farming; 2) infrastructural development such as irrigation, roads, electric poles, wind turbines and constructions; 3) mining and industrialization; and 4) well intended but ill-informed habitat management (Anon 2011; Singh et al. 2006). With increased availability of water due to Government irrigation policies, agriculture has spread over vast arid–semiarid grasslands. For example, the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project has caused drastic hydraulic changes and massive agricultural conversion in and around the Desert National Park. Moreover, irrigation facilities and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in the crop pattern from bustard–friendly traditional monsoonal crops (Sorghum, millet etc.) to cash crops (sugarcane, grapes, cotton, horticulture etc.) which are not suitable for the species. Due to ill-defined land distribution policies and the ambiguity arising from segregated ownership between private, community and government bodies, encroachment is a major problem in many bustard areas, especially in and around bustard sanctuaries of Maharashtra and Kachchh. Activities such as mining, stone quarrying, growth of industries and power projects along with the expansion of roads, electric poles, wind turbines and other infrastructures have increased the severity of habitat degradation and disturbance (Anon 2011). Traditionally, grasslands and scrub have been considered as wasteland and the Forest Department policy, until recently, has been to convert them to forests with plantation of fuel/fodder shrub/tree species, even exotics like Prosopis juliflora, Gliricidium and Eucalyptus spp., under social forestry and compensatory afforestation schemes (Forest (Conservation) Act 1988; Indian Forest Act 1927) resulting in further loss of habitat. Overgrazing on unprotected lands has also led to degradation of some areas (Mathew 2007, Dutta et al. 2010, P. Patil in litt. 2011, Anon 2011).
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. In India it is legally protected and there are severe penalties for killing an individual. It has been the focus of several publicity initiatives aimed at reducing hunting. Since 1981, extensive fieldwork has investigated its status, distribution and ecology, and a detailed conservation strategy has been published. Protected areas have been specifically established for the species (Sonkhaliya-Sorson, Lala-Naliya, Gaga-Bhatiya, Karera, Ghatigaon, Nanaj and Ranibennur), and populations occur in some others (Desert National park and Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary). Despite some failures (local extinctions in Karera, Gaga-Bhatiya and Ranibennur), there has been some success as well. Rehabilitation of grasslands has also benefited the species in some areas. The Indian government has provided financial support to conservation actions for this species in some regions (Anon. 2009). 'Project GIB' has recently been launched in Rajasthan including constructing enclosures for the species and developing infrastructure to reduce human pressure on habitats (Anon. 2013b). Meetings and processions with local communities have been carried out in the past by the Bombay Natural History Society (Rahmanin 2006) to generate support for birds among local people. More recently (March 2011), the Great Indian Bustard Foundation held a two-day meeting with communities within and around the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Nannaj (Patil 2011). Nearly 600 villagers attended and discussions covered the problems of local people and threats to the species (Patil 2011). The Great Indian Bustard Foundaton along with Maharashtra Forest Department, is conducting a school awareness programme and large-scale community awareness programme.Conservation Actions Proposed
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India have set up a Task Force to guide field implementation of bustard conservation actions (Anon 2011). Through meetings and workshops involving many parties (officials, experts, common citizen), site specific recovery plans have been drafted. Broadly speaking, the proposed conservation actions are: 1) To consolidate core breeding areas identified across the species’ range by creating strict refuges during prime breeding months (July–September). This will require acquiring government lands that are not owned by Forest Departments; making all core areas inviolate by chain-link-fencing and patrolling guards; and removing nest predators (dogs & cats) therein. Consumptive human use should not be permitted during breeding months but allowed under regulations outside of it. 2) To formulate landscape conservation strategies in priority areas (informed by telemetry research) for accommodating species’ non-breeding needs. Research informed habitat management should be planned herein (Dutta et al
. 2012) that excludes any construction of road and tall shrub/tree plantation. Unfriendly infrastructure (road, electricity network and wind turbines) should be curtailed within 2km radius of core breeding areas or replaced by bustard-friendly forms (underground electric cables and passes). This can be done by declaring priority areas as community or conservation reserves or Eco-sensitive zones through legislation. Additionally, local livelihoods should be linked with bustard conservation in priority areas by subsidy/ incentive driven Agro-environmental Schemes that promote bustard–friendly farming practices, such as pesticide–free farming of short palatable crops separated by long fallow periods, and stall feeding of livestock during peak monsoon months. 3). Consider commencing an ex-situ conservation breeding programme as an insurance against extinction. Since in-situ conservation measures will require at least 5-10 years to be implemented and the rapidly declining species’ trend provides a window of <5 years for procuring eggs from the wild, the implementation of conservation breeding should be taken up urgently. However, this is not an alternative to effective habitat management, and is only a mechanism to repopulate extinction-prone small stocks after their habitats have been restored. 4) To assess the efficacy of these conservation actions by systematic, country-wide population monitoring on alternate years for the next 10 years.
Anon. 2008. Bustard sanctuaries up for grabs. Sanctuary Asia 28(6): 8.
Anon. 2009. Recovery programme for the Great Indian Bustard. Buceros 14(2): 4.
Anon. 2013. GIB poachers arrested in Sriganganagar. Protected Area Update 19(4): 17-18.
Anon. 2013. Rajasthan launches "Project GIB". Protected Area Update 19(4): 17.
Anon. Submitted. Species Recovery Plan: The Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps. Government of India, New Delhi.
BirdLife International. 2001. Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.
Collar, N. J.; Butchart, S. H. M. 2013. Conservation breeding and avian diversity: chances and challenges. International Zoo Yearbook.
Dutta, S. In prep. Ecology of the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) in Kachchh, Gujarat with reference to resource selection in an agro-pastoral landscape. PhD thesis. Forest Research University.
Dutta, S.; Rahmani, A. R.; Jhala, Y. V. 2010. Running out of time? The Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps - status, viability, and conservation strategies. European Journal of Wildlife Research doi:10.1007/s10344-010-0472-z.
Kasambe, R.; Pimplapure, A.; Thosar, G.; Shaad, M. S. R. 2006. Sighting records of Great Indian Bustards (Ardeotis nigriceps) in Vidarbha. Newsletter for Birdwatchers 46(6): 88-89.
Kumara, H. N.; Mohan Raj, V. V. 2007. 11. The Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps: are they disappearing in Karnataka? Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 104(2): 211-212.
Mathew, R. M. 2007. The plight of Rollapadu Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Andra Pradesh. Indian Birds 3(4): 153-154.
Patil, P. 2011. Joint meeting to discuss conservation of Great Indian Bustard sanctuary. Protected Area Update 17(3): 13.
Rahmani, A. R. 2006. Need to start Project Bustards.
Sridhar, S. 2005. Bustards are wearing thin in Ghatigaon Sanctuary. Newsletter for Birdwatchers 45(1): 4.
Further web sources of information
Detailed species accounts from the Threatened birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book (BirdLife International 2001).
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species
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Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Peet, N., Taylor, J., Tobias, J. & Allinson, T
Lechleiter, B., Patil, P. & Dutta, S.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Ardeotis nigriceps. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 19/04/2015.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 19/04/2015.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000)
Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004)
Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
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