Site description (2004 baseline):
AVIFAUNA: No published checklist of birds is available, but it is assumed that more than 100 species along with many threatened species are present in this IBA site. There has been a drastic decline in the numbers of globally Endangered Great Indian Bustard. In the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see flocks of 10-15 bustards in a day’s visit. The largest flock was of 55 bustards photographed by Kailash Sankhala in early 1980s (R. S. Rathore pers. comm. 2001). During a survey in 1986, 30 bustards were sighted by Rahmani (1986) in January. However, in January 2002, only five were seen after spending almost the whole day in search. The Lesser Florican Sypheotides indica is still found during monsoon in small numbers. It is difficult to estimate total numbers as their population and distribution fluctuates from year to year, depending upon the rainfall pattern. Another globally threatened species occurring at this site is Stoliczka’s Bushchat, also called White-browed Bushchat Saxicola macrorhyncha. It is found in selected dry patches but is not difficult to sight. Among the Near Threatened species, Painted Stork Mycteria leucocephala and Oriental White Ibis or Black headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus are found in pools during good monsoon but not in any significant numbers. However, Red-headed or King Vulture Sarcogyps calvus and Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus are regularly seen, the latter only during winter while the former could be breeding in and around Sonkhaliya. There are chances that Houbara or Macqueen’s Bustard Chlamydotis macqueeni could be occurring here during winter because the habitat looks suitable in places, and this species has been found further east, in Sorsan Bustard Area in Baran district. The site lies in Biome-11 (Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone), in which BirdLife International (undated) has listed 59 species as biomerestricted assemblages. In this IBA, 24 such species have been identified till now, and more Biome-11 species are likely to occur.
OTHER KEY FAUNA: The other fauna which are usually associated with bustard habitats and are present in this IBA include Golden Jackal Canis aureus and Indian Fox Vulpes vulpes. Bluebull Boselaphus tragocamelus have increased intolerably in recent years, resulting in man-animal conflicts.
The site is one of the few places that harbour the Great Indian Bustard; hence, it should be prioritized for protection. Though it has been notified as a Closed Area, the continuous degradation of the habitat due to extension of crop fields is of great concern and should be checked. Since most of the land is under private ownership (in the form of cultivated land), habitat management for the benefit of the bustard is difficult. Therefore, not much can be done except for appointment of staff and establishment of a few core areas. Owing to increase in the population of Bluebull or Nilgai, many villagers have stopped growing Bengal gram Cicer arietinum, which is the main winter food of the Great Indian Bustard in Sonkhaliya (R. S. Rathor pers. comm. 2001; also see Rahmani 1989, Bhushan and Rahmani 1992). In the surrounding areas dominated by Muslims, where Bluebull menace is not so much due to regular hunting, Bengal gram is still grown in a large area. This attracts bustards to visit these crop fields, where they are not safe due to presence of hunters. Charaching is the single most important reason for the drastic decline in the number of bustards in Sonkhaliya and the rest of Rajasthan. However, except for posting one forest guard, the Rajasthan Forest Department has not taken any long-term measures to protect the bustards of Sonkhaliya. There is an urgent need to study the movement of the Great Indian Bustard through telemetry and colour banding, to find out their main breeding centres for more effective protection, and also to identify some core areas where livestock grazing can be curtailed during the breeding season of the bustard. However, the most important step would be to stop poaching by posting more guards and by an extensive environmental education programme. The population of Bluebull should be also checked so that people can go back to their traditional crop pattern. Unless these measures are taken, the chances of survival of the Great Indian Bustard in Sonkhaliya are very remote.
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Sonkhaliya Closed Area. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/site/factsheet/sonkhaliya-closed-area-iba-india on 04/10/2023.