In Rajasthan, the largest of India’s states, there’s only one person to call if you’ve got a problem with a man-eating tiger or diseased-ravaged birds: Chief Wildlife Warden Arindam Tomar.
Tomar has been in post for Rajasthan’s Forest Department since January 2019. In that time he’s become an assured, humble figure, as willing to lead big cat conservation projects as request support when faced by particularly complex environmental challenges.
But it’s his contribution to the fight to save the Great Indian Bustard (GIB)—a large, ostrich-like creature once in the running to be India’s national bird—that will prove to be the most memorable.
There are now only an estimated 150 of the “critically endangered” bustards left. According to India Today, GIBs have “poor frontal vision” and frequently crash into power lines stretched across their flight paths. There’s also been a long-term failure to tackle threats from energy infrastructure (solar parks on grassland), hunting by both humans and natural predators (dogs and pigs are partial to GIB eggs) and agriculture (indiscriminate use of pesticides and insecticides).
On top of this, GIBs lay just one egg every year—only then if there’s been a good enough monsoon—which are given an average success rate of less than 70 percent.
Arindam Tomar and GIB protection
After taking up his Forest Department post in 2019, Tomar set about leading the GIB protection project—in part backed by a 33 crore ($330 million) government fund.
The plan was to track animals ready to breed, take their eggs and hatch the chicks in captivity, where the animals would be safe until threats to their survival in the wild were mitigated.
It’s been a delightful success. In summer 2019, numerous eggs were collected from the Desert National Park. To date, nine of these have hatched—seven females, one male, and one as-yet unknown gender.
Work is ongoing to ensure that the GIB chicks grow to be strong. The females take around three years before they’re able to reproduce.
“Very little is known about their food habitat,” Tomar admitted to the Indian Express. “With inputs provided by our counterparts in Gujarat, scientists have identified bird feed that is rich in proteins and calcium.”
There are always concerns about the survival rates of animals reared in captivity, without the need to search for their own food or avoid predators. Tomar is alive to this concern, noting a priority to safeguard the natural areas in which the bustards live before any of the new chicks are reintroduced into the wild.
“Once these birds mature and can produce offspring, there must be enough habitats to support their growth. Readying the necessary habitat will be key in the coming months and years,” Tomar added to Indian Express.