Great Indian Bustard Ardeotis nigriceps


Justification of Red List Category
This species is listed as Critically Endangered because it has an extremely small population that has undergone an extremely rapid decline owing to a multitude of threats including habitat loss and degradation, hunting and direct disturbance. It now requires an urgent acceleration in targeted conservation actions in order to prevent it from becoming functionally extinct within a few decades.

Population justification
The species's total population was estimated at c. 300 individuals in 2008, indicating that there are probably fewer than 250 mature individuals remaining, hence the population is placed in the band 50-249 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Population estimates of c.1,260 individuals in 1969 (Dharmakumarsinhji 1971 in Dutta et al. 2010) and c.300 individuals in 2008 (Dutta et al. 2010) suggest that the species has undergone a decline equivalent to c. 82% over 47 years (estimate of three generations), assuming an exponential trend. The results of population viability analysis (Dutta et al. 2010) lend some support to a predicted decline of over 50% during the next 47 years if no additional conservation actions are taken.

Distribution and population

The species occurs in the Indian Subcontinent, with former strongholds in the Thar desert in the north-west and the Deccan tableland of the Peninsula (BirdLife International 2001). It has been extirpated from 90% of its former range and is now principally confined to Rajasthan. In 2014 a survey of the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, estimated the species was present at a density of 0.61 ± 0.36 individuals/100 km2, yielding abundance estimates of 103 ± 62 in the sampled area (16.9 km2) and 155 ± 94 individuals in the Thar landscape (25,488 km2). During the survey, 38 individuals were detected (Dutta et al. 2014). In 2012 only 89 birds were recorded during winter surveys in Rajasthan (Times of India 2012). Smaller populations (likely to be considerably fewer than 30 birds) are present in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, with birds now absent from Madhya Pradesh (Anon. 2015), India. It is also reported to breed in Pakistan, however, information on breeding activity has not been published (P. Patil in litt. 2015).

Recent declines have been noted in several areas, including Maharashtra (Kasambe et al. 2006, P. Patil in litt. 2011, Anon. 2015), Kachchh (Dutta in litt. 2012) and Rajasthan (P. Patil in litt. 2015). In Maharashtra, the latest population estimates suggest a population as low as 15 individuals (P. Patil in litt. 2015) and numbers have been falling in the Bustard Sanctuary since at least the late 1980s, with the 2010 census recording only nine individuals and only three individuals (one male and two females) recorded in 2014 (P. Patil in litt. 2014), and breeding has not been recorded there since 2007 at least (P. Patil in litt. 2011). A recent survey in Nashik, Maharashtra failed to find the species (P. Patil in litt. 2014), whilst a survey in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra provided an estimate of six or seven birds between April 2012 and May 2013 (Anon. 2014b). Populations in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are considered at risk of local extinction (Anon. 2015). In Kachchh the latest population estimate is fewer than 20 birds at densities of 0.05 per km2 in c. 400 km2 of suitable habitat (Dutta in litt. 2012). The species is likely to be close to disappearing from Karnataka (Kumara and Mohan Raj 2007, S. Kottur in litt.), and it is thought to have completely disappeared from the states of Haryana, Punjab, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh (Anon. 2015), India, but some apparently survive, and are hunted, in Sind, Pakistan (Khan et al. 2008, Dutta et al. 2010, B. Lechleiter in litt. 2011). Indian states in order of importance for the species are as follows: Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (Anon. 2015). Sites in order of priority for the species are: DNP Sanctuary (Rajasthan), Naliya (Gujarat), Warora (Maharashtra) and Bellary (Karnataka) (Anon. 2015).

Its total population has declined from an estimated 1,260 individuals in 1969 to c. 300 individuals in 2008 (Dutta et al. 2010), equivalent to a reduction of c. 82% over 47 years (three generations), assuming an exponential trend. The results of a recent genetic study, in which the effective population size was estimated from the diversity of mitochondrial DNA, provide support for an estimate of fewer than 1,000 birds, and likely about 500 during the period 2006-2010, when samples were collected (Ishtiaq et al. 2011). This study found very low genetic diversity for such a widespread species, probably owing to a bottleneck event caused by its widespread extermination possibly even before the mid 19th century (Ishtiaq et al. 2011). Population viability analysis predicts a high probability of local extinction within 50 years for populations numbering fewer than 30 individuals, with the more secure population of over 100 individuals showing sensitivity to the loss of one additional adult each year to human causes, indicating that present levels of off-take are unsustainable (Dutta et al. 2010). Current levels of hunting may result in the extinction of even the largest western Indian population in the next 15-20 years (Dutta et al. 2010).


It inhabits arid and semi-arid grasslands with scattered short scrub, bushes and low intensity cultivation in flat or gently undulating terrain. Birds congregate in traditional grassland patches (mostly identified) which are less disturbed, to breed during mid-summer and monsoon. It nests in open ground, laying only one clutch (consisting of one and very rarely two eggs) per year. Outside of breeding season, it probably makes local and possibly long distance nomadic movements (largely unknown) in response to various factors, using areas rich in food resources and surrounded by natural grass-scrub habitat for easy navigation. It requires different microhabitat envelopes for different activities, such as grasslands with relatively tall (vegetation 25-100cm) and dense cover, high insect resources and less grazing for nesting; short sparse vegetation (<25 cm vegetation) on slightly elevated ground for display; sparse vegetation (<25 cm vegetation) with minimal scrub for roosting; and moderate (25-50 cm vegetation) shade for resting (Rahmani 1989, Dutta in litt. 2012).


Historically, widespread hunting for sport and food precipitated its decline, accelerated by vehicular access to remote areas. High intensity poaching still continues in Pakistan (which is probably shared with western Rajasthan and Kachchh populations), where 49 birds were hunted out of 63 that were sighted over a period of four years (Khan et al. 2008). Some poaching continues in India as well (Sridhar 2005, Dutta et al. 2010, P. Patil in litt. 2011, Anon. 2013a, Anon. 2015), including one documented case where mine-workers that lost their livelihoods when mines near Gwalior were closed for the creation of the Ghatigaon Bustard Sanctuary hunted bustards to undermine the criteria on which the area was first designated as a sanctuary (Sridhar 2005). Hunting was prevalent in Maharashtra in the past (Anon. 2015). In 2012 a bird was poached near a protected area in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan (P. Patil in litt. 2012). Egg-collecting was rampant in many states during the early 19th century, and prevails very sporadically in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh (P. Patil in litt. 2011).

However, the current threats are mostly from habitat loss and degradation, caused by; 1) widespread agricultural expansion and mechanization of farming; 2) infrastructural development such as irrigation, roads, electricity pylons, wind turbines and constructions; 3) mining and industrialization; 4) well intended but ill-informed habitat management (Singh et al. 2006, Anon 2011); and 5) lack of community support (P. Patil in litt. 2011, 2013, 2015). With increased availability of water due to Government irrigation policies, agriculture has spread over vast arid–semiarid grasslands. For example, the Indira Gandhi Nahar Project has caused drastic hydraulic changes and massive agricultural conversion in and around the Desert National Park. Moreover, irrigation facilities and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in the crop pattern from bustard–friendly traditional monsoonal crops (sorghum, millet, etc.) to cash crops (sugarcane, grapes, cotton, horticulture, etc.) which are not suitable for the species. Due to ill-defined land distribution policies and the ambiguity arising from segregated ownership between private, community and government bodies, encroachment is a major problem in many bustard areas, especially in and around bustard sanctuaries of Maharashtra, Kachchh and Rajasthan.

Activities such as mining, stone quarrying, growth of industries, heavy pesticide use, grassland conversion and power projects along with the expansion of roads, electricity pylons, wind turbines, solar energy projects and other infrastructures have increased the severity of habitat degradation and disturbance (Anon 2011, 2015). The population in Madhya Pradesh has been lost due to trespassing, encroachment, mining and quarrying activities (Anon. 2015). Two individuals in Maharashtra (P. Patil in litt 2011) and one individual in Kachchh were reportedly killed by collisions with power-lines (Gadhavi 2014). Traditionally, grasslands and scrub have been considered as wasteland and the Forest Department policy, until recently, has been to convert them to forests with plantation of fuel/fodder shrub/tree species, even exotics like Prosopis juliflora, Gliricidium and Eucalyptus spp., under social forestry and compensatory afforestation schemes (Forest (Conservation) Act 1988; Indian Forest Act 1927) resulting in further loss of habitat. Afforestation has been highlighted as a problem at four sites used by the species: Naliya (Gujarat), Nannaj (Maharashtra), Ranibennur (Kamataka) and Rollapadu (Andhra Pradesh) (Anon. 2015). Overgrazing on unprotected lands has also led to degradation of some areas (Mathew 2007, Dutta et al. 2010, P. Patil in litt. 2011, Anon 2011) and nest failure is commonly attributed to trampling by livestock (Collar and Kirwan 2015). Hunting and egg collection remains a threat (Anon. 2014a). Free-ranging dogs pose a threat at all sites in India through disturbance of nesting adults and destruction of eggs (Anon. 2014c, 2015, P. Patil in litt. 2015). Nests may also be predated by House Crows (Corvus splendens) (Collar and Kirwan 2015). Antagonism towards the species by local people is a major threat with local extinctions recorded (Anon. 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. In India it is legally protected and there are severe penalties for killing an individual. It has been the focus of several publicity initiatives aimed at reducing hunting. Since 1981, extensive fieldwork has investigated its status, distribution and ecology, and a detailed conservation strategy has been published. Protected areas have been specifically established for the species (Sonkhaliya-Sorson, Lala-Naliya, Gaga-Bhatiya, Karera, Ghatigaon, Nanaj and Ranibennur), and populations occur in some others (Desert National park and Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary). Despite some failures (local extinctions in Karera, Gaga-Bhatiya and Ranibennur), there have been successes. Rehabilitation of grasslands has benefited the species in some areas. Grassland restoration through tree removal has taken place at the GIB Sanctuary in Maharashtra and work is planned for the Rollapadu GIB Sanctuary (Anon. 2015). A programme of management to remove an invasive weed species, Prosopis juliflora, from grassland in Kachchh proved successful as within seven days, Great Indian Bustard was observed in the cleared area (Anon. 2014c). 

The Indian government has provided financial support to conservation actions for this species in some regions (Anon. 2009). 'Project GIB' has recently been launched in Rajasthan including constructing enclosures for the species and developing infrastructure to reduce human pressure on habitats (Anon. 2013b). In Kachchh, a pilot programme has been established to neuter stray dogs around the core areas of the Bustard Sanctuary (Anon. 2014c). At the same time the dogs are vaccinated against rabies which will benefit the local community. Meetings and processions with local communities have been carried out in the past by the Bombay Natural History Society (Rahmanin 2006) to generate support for birds among local people. More recently (March 2011), the Great Indian Bustard Foundation held a two-day meeting with communities within and around the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary at Nannaj (Patil 2011). Nearly 600 villagers attended and discussions covered the problems of local people and threats to the species (Patil 2011). The Great Indian Bustard Foundation along with Maharashtra Forest Department, is conducting a school awareness programme and large-scale community awareness programme. Publicity materials and media stories have been produced to raise awareness of the species in India (Anon. 2015). 

In August 2013 a three-year BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme/RSPB funded project was initiated with Bharat Natural History Society (Anon. 2014a). A programme of research was set up to monitor the species and its grassland habitats as well as a satellite-tagging study to understand the seasonal movements of the species (Anon. 2014a). In India, workshops on implementing conservation plans were held in four states with Great Indian Bustard populations, capacity-building workshops were also held for members of the local community, NGO and Government staff (Anon. 2015). A community awareness campaign was held in the Thar desert, Rajasthan between February and March 2014.

Conservation Actions Proposed
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India have set up a Task Force to guide field implementation of bustard conservation actions (Anon 2011). A draft national recovery plan for the species was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2012 (Rahmani 2012). Through meetings and workshops involving many parties (officials, experts, local people), site specific recovery plans have been drafted. Broadly speaking, the proposed conservation actions are: 1) To consolidate core breeding areas identified across the species’s range by creating strict refuges during prime breeding months (July–September). This will require acquiring government lands that are not owned by Forest Departments; making all core areas inviolate by chain-link-fencing and patrolling guards; and removing nest predators (dogs and cats) therein. Consumptive human use should not be permitted during breeding months but allowed under regulations outside of it. 2) To formulate landscape conservation strategies in priority areas (informed by telemetry research) for accommodating the species’s non-breeding needs. Evidence-based habitat management interventions should be planned and implemented (Dutta et al. 2012) including work to exclude any road construction activities and tall shrub/tree plantations. Infrastructure developments (roads, electricity network and wind turbines) known to have a negative effect on the species should be curtailed within a 2 km radius of core breeding areas or replaced by bustard-friendly alternatives (underground electric cables and passes). These actions can be achieved by declaring priority areas as community or conservation reserves or Eco-sensitive zones through legislation. Additionally, local livelihoods should be linked with bustard conservation in priority areas by subsidy/incentive driven agro-environmental schemes that promote bustard-friendly farming practices, such as pesticide-free farming of short palatable crops separated by long fallow periods, and stall feeding of livestock during peak monsoon months. 3) Consider commencing an ex situ conservation breeding programme as an insurance against extinction. Since in situ conservation measures will require at least 5-10 years to be implemented and the rapidly declining population trend provides a window of <5 years for procuring eggs from the wild, the implementation of a conservation breeding programme would have to be taken up urgently. However, this is not an alternative to effective habitat management, and is only a mechanism to repopulate extinction-prone small stocks after their habitats have been restored. Importantly, a recent study modelled the species's population dynamics and found that establishing effective in situ conservation measures within the next 10 years and not removing eggs from the wild would recruit more adult females to the wild population within 30 years than a programme of captive breeding and releases (Dolman et al. 2015). 4) To assess the efficacy of these conservation actions by systematic, country-wide population monitoring on alternate years for the next 10 years. In addition to these four broad areas, emphasizing the value of grassland as a fodder resource could be important for protecting the species's habitat particularly in Rajasthan and Gujarat (Anon. 2015). 

Additional work planned includes: developing community awareness and an anti-poaching squad at the Desert National Park Sanctuary, Rajasthan; developing a community conservation strategy for the species and assessing the threat posed by powerlines and wind turbines in the Thar Desert (Anon. 2015). The Thar Desert, Rajasthan supports the largest population of the species and a long-term community-based, landscape-scale programme of conservation action is urgently required.


92-122 cm. Unmistakable, large, brown-and-white bustard with black crown and wing markings. Males have whitish neck and underparts with narrow black breast-band. Females are smaller, with greyer neck and typically no or incomplete breast-band. Voice Booming moans during display and barking or bellowing sounds when alarmed.


Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Davidson, P., Peet, N., Taylor, J., Tobias, J., Allinson, T & Ashpole, J

Lechleiter, B., Patil, P., Dutta, S., Kottur, S. & Gadhavi, D.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2017) Species factsheet: Ardeotis nigriceps. Downloaded from on 01/05/2017. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2017) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/05/2017.