Peshawar - Pakistan in its effort to conserve and protect very rare and critically endangered wild bird specie, `Great Indian Bustard’ has declared setting up of its habitat as `Wildlife Sanctuary’.

“Located in the Indo-Pak bordering region near Cholistan desert, the Wildlife Sanctuary for Great Indian Bustard (GIB) straddles between Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts of Punjab,” informed Hassan Sukhera, former director Lahore Zoo who is now supervising Ten Billion Tree Tsunami Project at Climate Change Ministry.

Talking to APP news agency, he said that Punjab government through Secretary Forest, Wildlife and Fisheries Department has recently declared 4675 square kilometres of area spreading over three Tehsils of Yazman, Liaqatpur and Khanpur of Districts Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan as Wildlife Sanctuary for GIB.

Apart from GIB, the sanctuary will also provide protection to all other wild species inhabiting the area, reads the order issued under Section 09 of the Punjab Protected Areas Act 2020.

“The decision taken in light of suggestions made by environmentalists and birds lovers is highly welcomed and considered as dawn of a new era for conservation of specie which is standing on the brink of existence,” Sukhera remarked.

“Great Indian Bustard is critically endangered bird specie which is mostly found in Rajistan and Kutch (Gujrat) areas of India and Cholistan and Nagar Parkar area of Thar desert in Pakistan,” informed Muhammad Jamshed Iqbal Chaudhry, Senior Manager WWF Pakistan.

In the whole habitat, both in India and Pakistan, the estimated number of birds would be hardly between 150 to 200, he guessed.

Realising drastic reduction in its population, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) included GIB in the list of `Critically Endangered’ species of the world in year 2011, Jamshed added.

The bird is also listed in Appendix I of CITIES that includes species threatened with extinction whose trade is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

Scientifically known as `Ardeotis Nigriceps’, GIB is among the heaviest flying birds and is found only in the Indian sub-continent and due to huge size it gives appearance of an ostrich, Jamshed explains.

The adult male of this specie can weight upto to 15 to 18 kgs having a height of one to 1.2 meter, making it tallest land bird of the region.

Muhammad Jamshed told APP that since 2013, the joint surveys conducted by WWF-Pakistan, Punjab Wildlife and Parks Department and Houbara Foundation International Pakistan reported good number of birds in Cholistan desert suggesting that habitat is very suitable.

There are a number of favourable biophysical conditions that support the GIB population in Cholistan desert. The unique combination of climatic condition, topography, location, geology and habitat types make this area a distinct ecosystem with a unique assemblage of floral and faunal species.

WWF-Pak official highly appreciated the decision taken by Punjab Forest department that will help protect the rare bird specie from going into extinction.

He said the biggest threat to the bird was hunting as the area declared as sanctuary was earlier used as Game Reserve where hunters used to hunt other species specially Sand Gouse after obtaining permits.

During hunting, killing of GIB was also reported that was further endangering its already limited population.

Conversion of grass land into agriculture and laying of high transmission lines are also serious threat to the bird population, he went on to say.

Overall, the factors contributing towards the decline of GIB include, habitat deterioration, collisions with high tension electric wires, poaching, lack of proper conservation efforts, over-grazing and the expanding agricultural fields and urbanization.

In Pakistan, he said, poaching and overgrazing are the main threats to GIB, but still the habitat of the bird is very strong providing vast areas with long grass.

Jamshed expressed the hope that decision will result in increase in population of GIB with passage of time because according to rules no one can carry gun in area declared as sanctuary and this will safe birds from hunting.

He also suggested for chalking out of management plan of the sanctuary besides Species Action Plan. Similarly, the communities should also be taken on board on conservation of the rarest specie of world by apprising them about threats and protection practices.

Meanwhile, Faisal Amin Khan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Local Government, also commended the decision by declaring it as a `Great Step’.

In a message on his Twitter account, Faisal Amin Khan who is also an ardent conservationist and Member Wildlife and Biodiversity Board KP, said the timely decision will help in protection of the critically endangered wildlife specie.

He also shared map of the sanctuary along with notification on his twitter account.