It was a searing sizzling day final June when Sutirtha Dutta and his group discovered the egg. There it lay, sized preferred a small fist, amid the dry scrub and sand.

Recognizing that first egg of the nice Indian bustard chicken within the Desert Nationwide Park in Jaisalmer got here after almost three weeks of monitoring and commentary. However for Dutta, it felt longer. “It was the results of 10 years of advocacy and wrestle by lots of people. It felt surreal,” says the scientist at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), who helps steer a pioneering breeding programme of a chicken perilously near extinction.

That egg, later incubated at a protected breeding facility arrange by WII in Sam, Jaisalmer, is now Uno, a seven-month-old chick. To the delight of the researchers, eight extra eggs that have been collected and incubated have additionally hatched. 9 may sound like a small quantity however that’s almost eight% of the overall inhabitants of the nice Indian bustard. The chicken’s inhabitants has declined by 75% within the final 30 years, leaving lower than 150 alive in the present day.

The captive breeding challenge — a joint effort by WII, the Rajasthan authorities and the Union atmosphere ministry with the assistance of Abu Dhabi’s Worldwide Fund for Houbara Conservation — is an try to save lots of what ecologists say may effectively be the following species, after the cheetah, to change into extinct in impartial India.

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The plan is to maintain including to this quantity, until there are about 30 birds in captivity, whose offspring will ultimately be launched into the wild. “It’s an insurance coverage coverage in opposition to whole extinction,” says YV Jhala, a senior scientist at WII, an autonomous institute below the Ministry of Setting and Forests.

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Identified regionally as godavan, the long-lasting birds with lengthy white necks and brown our bodies are native to grasslands and scrublands and are among the many heaviest flying birds on the planet, with the grownup male weighing as much as 15 kilograms.

Traditionally, the birds was hunted until the Wildlife Safety Act of 1972 got here into impact. The legislation curbed bustard looking, although it didn’t get rid of it.

There have been 1,500-2,000 bustards in 11 states until about three many years in the past. However what accelerated their inhabitants decline was the unfold of electrical energy transmission traces in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The nice Indian bustard is a heavy flier with poor frontal imaginative and prescient. Unable to see the facility traces from a distance, the birds would maintain colliding with the high-tension wires.

This usually killed them. Add to this the lack of habitat on account of in depth irrigation and the rising variety of nest predators like canine, and the identify of the nice Indian bustard quickly appeared on the record of 100 most endangered species on the planet by the Worldwide Union for Conservation of Nature.

14Energy traces have been a significant reason for loss of life for the endangered chicken.

Many of the bustards now stay within the Thar space, with about 20 of them distributed throughout Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

To save lots of the birds, conservationists say the precedence is to push energy distributors to take among the transmission traces underground or connect chicken deflectors to the wires, and handle nest predators. WII’s research have discovered that energy traces within the Desert Nationwide Park have been yearly killing almost 1 lakh birds throughout species.

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“Firms are reluctant to take traces underground as it is rather pricey. However what’s the price of saving a dying species?” says Asad Rahmani, a former director of Bombay Pure Historical past Society and an skilled on the nice Indian bustard. By the way, one of many 9 chicks in captive breeding is known as after Rahmani, because it shared its birthday with the ornithologist.

Dutta says what the 9 chicks signify is essential for any conservation effort. “Until now, in lots of of those habitats, conservationists have been giving up. They stated there was no level in restoring the habitat as a result of we don’t have the birds.”

However now there’s a counter to that despondency. “Conservation breeding is a long-term plan nevertheless it affords one thing tangible to park managers to make pure habitats prepared (for a species that they had given up on),” says Dutta.

15A bustard chick being bred in captivity.