Jerdon's Courser seeks Champion, as survey work resumes
Studies of the population and conservation requirements of the Critically Endangered Jerdon's Courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus have been stepped up again, after three years in which resources had to be diverted to a successful campaign against the construction of the Teluga Ganga Canal through the birdís last known stronghold, in eastern India.
Construction of the canal went ahead in spite of a legal requirement that work should not continue until a large area of the courserís scrub jungle home had been transferred to Andra Pradesh's Forestry Department for protection.
However, the canal has followed the route stipulated by India's Supreme Court, following lobbying by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India). It passes to one side of the scrub jungle, rather than through it, as originally proposed.
The 1,000 hectares of scrub jungle, which lie between the canal and the Sri Lankamaleswara WildLife Sanctuary, has been purchased from the local villagers by Andra Pradesh's Irrigation Department, and is understood to be in the custody of the state's Revenue Department, pending final transfer to the Forest Department.
"The new protected area is there on paper, but has yet to be demarcated and come under the control of the Forest Department", said Ian Barber, the RSPB's South Asia officer. He also added that some houses and two temples have been built in an area which BNHS and RSPB consider to be part of the protected area, although local people dispute this.
BNHS is anxious to ensure that no further encroachments take place. BNHS senior research fellow Rahul Chavan, newly appointed to the Jerdon's Courser project, will work with local communities to reduce pressure on the scrub jungle by restoring degraded land outside the new reserve.
"Jerdon's Courser is a priority species for the Indian government as it is one of the 12 species in their five-year biodiversity plan" —Ian Barber, RSPB (BirdLife in the UK)
In the absence of large wild herbivores, some livestock grazing is needed to keep the scrub jungle habitat open, and Chavan will try to ensure that this is kept to sustainable levels. Jerdon's Courser has strict habitat preferences, of 300-700 large bushes per hectare and much of the habitat within the Sri Lankamaleswara sanctuary has become too dense for them.
The University of Reading has been carrying out satellite work to identify other areas of scrub jungle which may provide suitable conditions. Ian Barber and Rhys Green, Principal Research Biologist at the RSPB, have visited the 'hot spots' identified by satellite, and confirmed that suitable habitat exists.
The last 'contact' with a courser was made by a visiting birder in 2007. The birds are nocturnal, elusive, rarely respond to playbacks of their calls, and leave few traces on the stony ground of the scrub forest.
Resources are required to purchase and install a number of camera traps throughout the site in the hope of gaining a better idea of the population and the birds' patterns of activity. BNHS and RSPB also have permission to trap and tag the birds which would provide an invaluable opportunity to study the movements of the bird which to date are almost unknown.
"We have completed a final draft of the Species Recovery Plan, and now need to discuss it with the state government in Hyderabad", said Barber. "Jerdon's Courser is a priority species for the Indian government as it is one of the 12 species in their five-year biodiversity plan."
However, funding from the UK's Darwin Initiative is at an end and if the work to restore the species to viable numbers is to continue, Jerdon's Courser is in urgent need of a Species Champion.
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Credits: BNHS, RSPB, BirdLife