Lesser florican

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  • Before their legal protection in the 1970s, it was hunting that exterminated large numbers of floricans, but the main reason for their decline now is the loss of habitat.
  • The lesser florican, Sypheotides indicus, is the smallest bustard in the world, weighing 500 to 750 grams, and is found only in India.
  • The country’s other two resident bustard species, the great Indian bustard and the Bengal florican, are equally imperilled, classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ in IUCN’s Red List.
  • Fewer than 150 great Indian bustards survive; and less than 350 Bengal floricans remain, scattered in small fragmented populations in a few protected areas in the Terai, Dooars and Brahmaputra floodplains.
  • Historically, the lesser florican’s habitat spanned from Gujarat and Rajasthan to West Bengal and Odisha, from eastern Uttar Pradesh to Kerala.
  • It was once also found in Nepal, and there were occasional reports of sightings from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Today, its viable population is restricted mainly to just two locations: Velavadar, with 96 to 115 territorial males, and Shokaliya-Bhinai villages of Rajasthan with 110 to 136 territorial males.
  • The rapid decline is tied to the decimation of India’s least valued, most ill-managed and highly endangered ecosystem — the grassland.
  • Generally dismissed as ‘wastelands’, grasslands have been massively diverted for infrastructure, real estate, roads, power projects — including renewable energy projects. Misled efforts to ‘green wastelands’ have also transformed grasslands into monoculture woodlands with disastrous impacts on several species.

Grasslands under stress:

  • The truth is grasslands are vibrant ecosystems that support some of India’s rarest wildlife — pygmy hogs, wild buffalo, Nilgiri tahr, wolves, caracals, swamp deer and hog deer. Yet, less than 1% of grasslands come under the protected area network. And even that minuscule area is under stress.
  • Sardarpur Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh in 2013
  • Rajasthan’s Shokaliya, for instance, is extensively mined for quartz, mica, marble and masonry stone, and has gouged out the grasslands.