CR
Lesser Florican Sypheotides indicus



Justification

Justification of Red List Category
This species now qualifies as Critically Endangered because repeated population surveys across the range show an extremely rapid reduction in the number of mature individuals (specifically displaying males) over the past three generations at a rate that appears to be accelerating. It has already been lost from large areas of its range due to the loss of grassland habitat and is now restricted to few, widely separated breeding regions. The species appears to be in imminent danger of becoming extinct in Madyha Pradesh and only very few are breeding in Maharashtra, leaving only two states with populations larger than a hundred mature individuals. The total population size is now thought to be fewer than 1,000 mature individuals, down from over 3,500 in twenty years.

Population justification
The total population has been calculated from a recent and robust survey over most of the range which estimated 340 displaying males (95% CI 162–597, Dutta et al. 2018). This excluded any birds in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh as the survey failed to locate any individuals (Dutta et al. 2018), despite this 38-57 individuals (maximum 19 males) have been reported from these states for the 2018/2019 period (Pinjarkar 2018, Mishra & Ghosh 2020). In addition, 6 males were present in Rollapadu Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh, in 2017, another region unsurveyed in the recent survey led by Dutta et al. (2018). Summing these values and assuming an equal sex ratio (a conservative assumption, as there may be multiple females per displaying male) the population size is therefore estimated to be 356-1,228 mature individuals, with a best estimate of 730 mature individuals.
The methodology of the recent Dutta et al. (2018) survey was designed to be comparable with that of Sankaran (2000), who estimated 3,530 mature individuals in 1999 (Sankaran 2000, Collar et al. 2001). The population estimate in 1982 was 4,374 mature individuals (Collar et al. 1994). Assuming a linear rate of decline from the 1999 estimate (Collar [2021] indicates the rate is likely to be accelerating), the rate of population reduction over the past three generations (15.9 years) is equivalent to 89%, however, calculating an accelerating rate of decline by incorporating the 2008 estimate of 2,500 mature individuals (Dutta et al. 2013) results in an estimated 93% reduction over the past three generations. Both rate of declines indicate extinction within a few years, as noted by Collar (2021).
The remaining strongholds are thought to be Velavadar (Gujarat), with 96-115 displaying males where the population is concentrated in few sites at high density, and and Shokalyia-Bhinai (Rajasthan). In Rajasthan the population is dispersed across a large area at very low density where 110-136 males were thought to be present (Dutta et al. 2018), however, only 35-40 displaying males are counted annually since 2017 (S. Narwade in litt. 2021). 
Displaying males continue to be observed in Maharashtra, despite not being recorded during the 2018 survey (Dutta et al. 2018). 7-8 males and 20-22 females were reported from a conservation partnership with the Phasepardhi community (Pandharipande 2015, Pinjarkar 2018). In Madhya Pradesh, annual numbers reported by the Chief Conservator of Forests for 2015 to 2018 were 48, 39, 19 and 27, but only 11 were recorded in 2019 (Mishra & Ghosh 2020) and only 5 in 2020 (Tomar 2020): this population is in imminent danger of being lost.

Trend justification
The species is suspected to have declined at a extremely rapid rate over the past three generations based on published population numbers derived from coordinated surveys across the breeding areas. Based on population estimates published for 1982 of 4,734 mature individuals (Collar et al. 1994), for 1999 of 3,530 mature individuals (Sankaran 2000, Collar 2001), for 2008 of 2,500 individuals (Dutta et al. 2013) and 730 mature individuals in 2018 (Dutta et al. 2018, Pinjarkar 2018, Mishra & Ghosh 2020: see Population size), a fitted rate of reduction (as in Collar 2021) is equivalent to 93% over three generations, or 89% at a linear rate of reduction. While there is uncertainty over the accuracy of the population sizes estimated in each year due to accounting for undetected males, uncertainty over the population sex ratio and level of site fidelity in the species, it is abundantly clear from the assembled data that the species is undergoing a catastrophic rate of decline.

The decline is ascribed to the on-going loss and conversion of grassland habitats, but additional factors may be driving very low reproductive success and causing high rates of adult mortality (Dutta et al. 2018). Very little is known about mortality during the non-breeding season (Dutta et al. 2018).

Distribution and population

Sypheotides indicus breeds in India in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh (Raha and Prakash 2001, Kasambe and Gahale 2010, Bhardwaj et al. 2011, Anon. 2014, P. Patil in litt. 2016), with some dispersal to south-east India in the non-breeding season. It is a very rare summer visitor (<10 birds) to the terai of Nepal, although there have been no records for a few years and was formerly recorded more frequently, but may have only been an non-breeding visitor, dependent on monsoon rains (Inskipp et al. 2016, C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012).

Formerly widespread and common, it has been declining since at least the 1870s. From 1982-1989, its population declined by nearly 60% (4,374-1,672 birds). However, by 1994, it had increased by 32% to 2,206 birds. These population fluctuations are directly correlated with breeding season rainfall patterns, indicating that it is susceptible to extinction in the event of severe, prolonged drought. Recent surveys have indicated an extremely rapid reduction that has continued and appears to have accelerated over the past 20 years (Collar 2021) with very few breeding birds noted in Madhya Pradesh (5 breeding males in 2020 [Tomar 2020]), 6 males in Andhra Pradesh in 2017 (Dutta et al. 2018) and 7-8 males in Maharashtra (Pandharipande 2015, Pinjarkar 2018). Loss from these states appears to be likely in the near future.

Ecology

The species is a local migrant with movements apparently determined by rainfall patterns (Dutta et al. 2018). As such migration is considered partial and opportunistic with birds concentrating in areas that receive more rainfall, however there is believed to be a fairly high level of site fidelity among males (Dutta et al. 2018). Virtually all of the breeding areas are on private or revenue lands (Narwade et al. 2020). Breeding coincides with the south-west monsoon, May-September, with birds congregating in north-central and west India for males to perform extraordinary leaping aerial displays. It occurs in productive rain-fed grasslands greater than two hectares, in lowland areas (below 250 m), particularly dominated by Sehima nervosum and Chrysopogon fulvus, with scattered bushes and scrub (Dutta et al. 2018); with breeding areas coinciding with areas of black cotton soil (H. Yahya in litt. 2016). It has also been recorded breeding in soybean Glycine max, mung bean Vigna radiate, Black gram or Urad Bean Vigna mungo, Sesame Sesamum indicium, groundnut Arachis hypogea and infrequently in sorghum Sorghum vulgare, maize Zea mays, sugarcane Saccharum, rice Oryza sativa, mustard Brassica campestris and wheat Triticum vulgare crops as well as grassland in forest plantations (Sankaran 2000, Narwade et al. 2017).

Non-breeding season movements are poorly understood, but the species sometimes uses lightly wooded areas as well as grasslands and scrubland (Sankaran 2000). Individuals may disperse large distances from breeding sites, as far as southern and north India (Dharmakumarsinhji 1950, S. Narwade in litt. 2020, eBird 2021), but others remain on or near breeding sites year round (eBird 2021).

Threats

Severe hunting pressure, particularly of males for sport and also food (e.g. Kasambe and Gahale 2010), precipitated its decline.

More recently, the most significant threats to direct mortality are likely to be predation of chicks by feral dogs and adult mortality through collisions with energy infrastructure. The species also continues to be threatened by hunting in Nepal (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012), and eggs and females may also be collected within its range (H. Yahya and P. Patil in litt. 2016). Unethical photography were also identified as threats by Dutta et al. (2018).

Declines have been caused by rapid reductions in the area of grassland owing to conversion to agriculture (with associated use of insecticides and fertilisers [H. Yahya in litt. 2016]) and overgrazing. This along with a lack of coordination between different implementing agencies, lack of participatory planning, rapid industrialisation and spread of mining and quarry activities are key growing threats to species (Dutta et.al. 2013, Narwade et al. 2015). In many areas, 40-80% of grasslands have been encroached and converted to intensive agriculture (Sankaran 1995, Joshua 2011, Dutta and Jhala 2012) within the last 2-3 decades. In addition, the rapid spread of the non-native Prosopis glandulosa threatens habitat quality. Over the last two decades, unreliable monsoon rains have caused significant population fluctuations. In Nepal, the species suffers from disturbance and insufficient protection resulting in overgrazing and subsequent grassland degradation (Inskipp et al. 2016, C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012). It is also seriously threatened by inappropriate management, such as ploughing in protected areas, leading to a loss of suitable habitat. Pressure on lowland grasslands in Nepal continues to increase, and now very small areas of suitable habitat remain, and these are almost entirely within protected areas (Inskipp et al. 2016). In addition, the invasive plant Mikania micrantha has had serious impacts on Chitwan National Park and Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II, Convention on Migratory Species, Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act (Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India 2003) has listed the species in Schedule 1 (Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act 2002). Guidelines for a state Action Plan for bustards has been set up in India (Dutta et al. 2013) and Madhya Pradesh State Forest Department in collaboration with Bombay Natural History Society and Wildlife Institute of India have prepared a conservation plan for Florican in Madhya Pradesh (Anon 2014). In 1983, Rajasthan declared a ban on hunting this species, effective for 10 years, and local people were employed in a scheme to prevent hunting in Madhya Pradesh. In Nepal, the species is protected at the national level (C. Inskipp and H. S. Baral in litt. 2012). In 1994, a conservation strategy was published, which proposed management recommendations for fodder-producing grasslands and increased protection for natural grasslands. In 1996, several sites in Rajasthan were identified for intensive conservation action. Two Lesser Florican sanctuaries exist: Sailana and Sardarpur, both in Madhya Pradesh (Rahmani 2006), and the Government of Madhya Pradesh has instigated as reward scheme for farmers who help to protect this species (V. Jain in litt. 2008). The species occurs in a number of other protected areas. In Maharashtra, a local NGO, Samvedana, has worked to involve local poachers in conservation actions for the protection of the species and its habitats (P. Patil in litt. 2012). Under BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme a workshop was organised for Forest Department officials in Madhya Pradesh for Lesser Florican conservation. Rajasthan Forest Department has initiated measures to protect habitat for Florican in Sonkhaliya Florican area (P. Patil in litt. 2016). The plight of this species highlighted by Dutta et al. (2018) instigated a number of local measures (Collar 2021): in February 2020, Bombay Natural History Society organised a farmers' meet to promote florican-friendly farming and publicised to villagers the plight of the Lesser Florican; in Kanakpar, the community has fenced a 16-ha plot, cleared invasive vegetation from it, and established a rotational grazing regime compatible with producing sustainable yields and providing florican breeding habitat. In Rajasthan, sterilisation programmes have proven effective at controlling dog numbers (Jhala et al. 2020). There are currently individual captive breeding programmes in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh although these remain uncoordinated (Collar 2021). 

Conservation Actions Proposed
Dutta et al. (2018) published a blueprint comprising eight recommendations for any in situ conservation efforts of the species: (1) provide protection by creating conservation areas with strict patrols; (2) prevent infrastructural, industrial and saltpan developments, and mitigate powerlines; (3) manage grasslands by consolidating contiguous areas, restricting grazing in monsoon months and removing invasive and exotic shrub/tree plantations; (4) promote florican-friendly practices, e.g. organic farming, delayed grass-cutting, the promotion of pesticide-free crops; (5) create networks of 'florican friends' to report and prevent detrimental activities; (6) control dog populations in a holistic programme in neighbouring villages; (7) study florican ecology using satellite telemetry and associated surveys; and (8) conduct outreach programmes to generate support among stakeholders. Dutta et al. (2018) also identified 11 areas (covering 4,196 ha) which they propose as 'Community Conservation Areas' where many of the recommendations above can be implemented. The Bombay Natural History Society have since expanded the recommended list to 26 sites (Collar 2021). As an insurance policy, Dutta et al. (2018) advocate the establishment of a captive breeding population.

Identification

46-51 cm. Small, slender bustard with longish bill and legs. Male has spatulate-tipped head plumes, black head, neck and underparts. White collar across upper mantle, white wing-coverts. Female and immature are sandy or cinamon-buff. Similar spp. Bengal Florican Houbaropsis bengalensis is larger and shorter-necked, with no head plumes and no white collar. Voice Frog-like croaks during display and short whistle when flushed. Hints Search grasslands in July-September when displaying males are conspicuous.

Acknowledgements

Text account compilers
Martin, R.

Contributors
Baral, H.S., Dutta, S., Inskipp, C., Jhala, Y., Patil, P., Yahya, H., Jain, V., Benstead, P., Davidson, P., Taylor, J., Westrip, J.R.S., Narwade, S., Tobias, J., Peet, N. & Bird, J.


Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Sypheotides indicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 03/07/2022. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2022) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 03/07/2022.