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Pictures of endangered GIBs poached in Pak go viral, Indian conservationists worried

The GIB's population, which is less than 100 in Rajasthan, accounts for 95 per cent of its total world population

It has been over a month that pictures of two male Great Indian Bustards allegedly poached in Pakistan's Cholistan desert have gone viral, but no stern action by Islamabad has left the Indian conservationists shocked and surprised.

On April 2, the two male GIBs were poached and the poachers made it a point to photograph with the carcasses of birds in their hands and guns on their shoulders — a trophy moment.

As the pictures went viral they invited the ire of wildlife conservationists from all across the world.

The Tourism & Wildlife Society of India (TWSI) strongly condemned the poaching of GIBs, while expressing surprise that the people in the neighbouring country continued to kill this rare species of birds when India is trying to save the endangered species.

"It cannot take place without the cover provided by the government authorities in Pakistan. This incident should be probed thoroughly and the poachers punished," TWSI honorary secretary Harsh Vardhan told IANS.

"As Rajasthan shares the international border with Pakistan's Sindh and Punjab provinces, it is suspected that Indian-bred GIBs fly across to Pakistan's desert and are easy prey for the gun-toting poachers there. This incident is a clear indication of the things to come," Vardhan said.

Wildlife Institute of India's Dean and senior scientist, Yaduvendradev Jhala said the project teams had surveyed the border areas near Bikaner and had not found any GIB there. The habitat in Cholistan, where the GIBs were killed, looked much better than the Indian side, as it had no cattle, he said.

Jhala along with his scientist colleague, Suthirtha Datta, assisted wildlife authorities in Rajasthan in successfully breeding of GIB in captivity in the Desert National Park (DNP), Jaisalmer, after a prolonged debate, on how and why to do it.

The GIB's population, which is less than 100 in Rajasthan, accounts for 95 per cent of its total world population.

Sixteen chicks of GIB are currently (as in May 2021) being reared in DNP by a team technically supported by the Houbara Breeding Centre of United Arab Emirates, located in Abu Dhabi.

At a time when India had stepped up breeding initiatives of the GIB, such an incident taking place in Pakistan was "most horrendous", said Vardhan adding that the TWSI even shot off a letter to the Pakistan High Commission seeking a probe by its government and calling for stringent punishment to the poachers.

The Pakistani environmentalists' group, Save the Wild, has also sought the intervention of Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa in the matter, since the main culprit is a retired Army officer.

The group has appealed to Gen. Bajwa to ensure the survival of wildlife in Cholistan, so that the GIB, facing the threat of extinction, is protected.

Save the Wild has appealed to Bajwa to take action against the accused.

"A heartfelt appeal to Chief of Army Staff, Qamar Javed Bajwa regarding former MNA Major (retd) Syed Tanveer Hussain.

"Dear Sir, Your intervention will play a key role in the survival of the country's and the nation's asset i.e., the Wildlife along with other resources available in Cholistan. Otherwise, many people like Tanveer Shah will rise in the future and that will eradicate Wildlife in Cholistan and Pakistan," it tweeted.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), a global authority on species survival, categorised the GIBs as "endangered" in 1994, and later, it was forced to upgrade the species to the status of "critically endangered" in 2011 because of continued threats faced in the survival of these large birds.