The Thar has proven time and again that coexistence between the wild and the human inhabitants of the desert is very much a possibility. Despite the sheer vastness and isolation of the Thar Desert, it is the most populated desert in the world. For thousands of years, the indigenous communities of the Thar have coexisted with the wildlife of the region in relative peace, with some communities even going out of their way to protect the species.
There is one enigmatic being that once roamed throughout the grasslands of the subcontinent but is now exclusively found near our luxury desert camp in Rajasthan. The Great Indian Bustard, known to the locals as Godawan is a large bird, perhaps one of the heaviest flying birds known to man. At an impressive 1.8m record height it’s easy to see how the Bustard is a popular mascot of India’s grasslands and deserts; standing imposingly over scrub forest under the shade, moving about slowly as the day progresses and soaring overhead when it is time to fly back home.
The Bustard is currently the state bird of Rajasthan. It is a large terrestrial bird in the same family as Floricans and other grassland birds. Its initial population extended throughout most of the central and northwestern Indian subcontinent but today the bird’s populations are only a tenth of what they used to be. When you see a Bustard in flight, you may notice a loose bag of skin hanging from the throat of the bird. This is known as the gular pouch, and it is present among male Bustards. The pouch helps them communicate, giving off that guttural, booming call that Bustards are known for. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to hear it for yourself around our luxury desert camp in Rajasthan!
Great Indian Bustards are omnivorous. When able, they feed on insects and even small reptiles, but they also will not hesitate to feast on what sustenance they can get from plants. They breed from summer all throughout the early rains in the region; each female lays a single egg for the duration of the season, and she alone is responsible for the nest’s safety throughout its incubation stage.
Great Indian Bustards are unfortunately critically endangered, with no more than 200 individuals residing throughout the entire country. Of these, the biggest population of around 130 live near our luxury desert camp in Rajasthan in the Desert National Park and the surrounding regions of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur.
Hunting was one of the main reasons for the decline of this magnificent bird; both royalty and the common man found the Bustard to be easy picking despite its height and cleverness. Today, the bird is protected by a wide range of communities and people. The Bishnois, known protectors of the wild, were enlisted to be the informants for the bird as a part of an initiative called the Godawan Conservative Community.
Another major culprit for the decline of the Bustards is the power line. With hundreds of these massive lines throughout the region, Bustards easily collide into the lines and perish. This method in fact is said to be the number 1 cause of Bustard deaths in the past decade. A new innovative approach by the state government and various conservation programs involved installing brightly colored flaps on the lines as a diversion to scare the birds but for the purpose of keeping them away from the lines.
Finally, a captive breeding center not too far from our own luxury desert camp in Rajasthan was set up in 2019 by the Wildlife Institute of India to facilitate future preservation of Great Indian Bustards. While captive breeding programs are hard work and sometimes do not work as intended, the center in Rajasthan currently shows lots of promise with nearly 10 young Bustards in captivity.