Written by Sourabha Rao
An article Dr. Nigel Collar wrote about the urgency of a lesser florican conservation programme, in January this year, began with this assertion: “I am terrified over the future of the lesser florican.” The italicised emphasis on the word that conveys his concern remains justified, for he asserts that if we do nothing now, the ‘critically endangered’ lesser florican will be completely gone in about twenty years.
Illustration: Aditi Rajan
The lesser florican has various local names in different parts of India based on the appearance and sometimes based on the behaviour of the bird. In Rajasthan, it is Kharmore (meaning grass peacock) Katkatya (referring to the sound the bird produces while courtship displays)/ Phudakadya (referring to jump during the courtship display). The residential bustard is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. It is found in grasslands and grassland-like habitat, including certain croplands. Best known for the male’s leaping breeding displays during the monsoons, the lesser florican visits north-western and central India in monsoon and spreads out into the lower parts of the subcontinent during the winter (Dharmakumarsinhji 1950). During the non-breeding season, the species can also be found in lightly wooded areas and Zizyphus dominated scrubland (Sankaran 2000).
The lesser florican’s population was estimated to be 2,200 birds during the mid-1999s (Sankaran 2000), and compared to this, the number of mature individuals was estimated to be approximately 264 individuals in 2018. In India, it is known to breed in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh. Some dispersal is recorded in south-east India in the non-breeding season. Their sightings became rare in the last few decades (Goriup and Karpowicz 1982, Sankaran 2000, Bharadwaj et al. 2011, Dutta et al. 2018). Estimates from the year 2020 show that, globally, there might be about 300 to 600 male lesser floricans.[3: Dutta et al. 2018]
Threats to lesser florican
The biggest threat this florican faces is habitat loss and degradation. The bird relies on healthy grasslands for its breeding. In the grasslands, excessive cattle grazing, planting shrubs and trees leaves not enough shelter for the florican to safely breed in. With India moving on to intensified industrial-scale agriculture, increased use of tractors and pesticides, the florican’s habitat is declining at an alarming rate.
Use of grasslands for infrastructure such as wind-turbines, powerlines, roads, industries/housing, salt pans, and mining; poaching, trapping, and egg collection; free-ranging dogs in prime breeding habitats; unethical photography; lack of local awareness regarding the significance of grasslands and the lesser florican; and paucity of ecological and conservation information are the other threats this florican faces.[Source]
Current efforts at regional level
There are several institutes working in India at a local level for different aspects of lesser florican monitoring and conservation, such as understanding ecology, community-based conservation and reviving the population through captive rearing by research institutes like Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). The state forest departments of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh are also actively involved to ensure quality of the grassland regions to provide breeding ground for the bird. Sardarpur and Sailana in Madhya Pradesh are the two protected areas formed for lesser florican. NGOs such as Samvedana working in the Akola-Washim region are trying, with the tribal communities, to save the florican-friendly habitats.
What lies ahead
It is still not all doom and gloom for the lesser florican. In the same report that lists the aforementioned threats, experts hope that it can still be saved from the brink of extinction.
Creating conservation areas and implementing strict patrols could be the beginning of such an effort, they opine. Followed by managing grassland by consolidating contiguous patches (to make large areas); preventing infrastructural and industrial development in florican habitats; mitigating powerlines; restricting grazing in monsoon months and removing exotic shrub/tree plantations; creating networks of ‘florican friends’ to report and prevent detrimental activities; controlling dog populations in a holistic programme in neighbouring villages; studying florican ecology using satellite telemetry and associated surveys; and conducting outreach programmes to create awareness and vital support among multiple stakeholders are some of the possible solutions that will effectively aid in the conservation of the lesser florican.
With clarity in understanding the threats and envisioning immediate scientific solutions, it is possible to hope for a better future for the stunning lesser florican. Collaborative efforts are required which will help to conserve, protect and restore habitats and prevent species extinction. May the bird that fascinates our minds and hearts also thrive in its rightful home.
 Lesser florican population
 Lesser florican population dispersal
 Lesser florican population 2020