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Conserving wetlands in India - the
Krouncha way!Dependent on the wetlands for their survival Sarus cranes
are widely revered for their pair-bond and can be ideal flagship species
for wetland conservation in IndiaSUNIL KUMAR M, DHNS
Kolla S Gopi Sundar has seen more number of Sarus cranes
than most of us. At a young age of 29 years, he spends his time trying to
save cranes and their habitats all across south Asia working with
governments, NGOs, scientists, naturalists and anyone else who cares.
Gopi Sundar, a Bangalorean and a product of St Joseph’s College of
Arts and Science, is presently the Principal Coordinator of the Indian
Cranes and Wetlands Working Group (ICWWG) and a member of the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Crane Specialist
Gopi Sundar, a role model for conservationists, was
in Bangalore recently. He spoke to Deccan Herald about the status
of cranes in India and the efforts to use the Sarus Crane as a flagship
species for conservation of wetlands in north India.
How did you
get interested in crane conservation?
I was into adventure
activities such as mountaineering when I was young. Later, I learnt about
the Birdwatchers Field Club of Bangalore where I picked up the art of
closely observing birds and the joys of making notes. I used to
participate in the waterfowl census in Bangalore. After my MSc in ecology
I worked as a research fellow at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII),
Dehradun, studying the impact of land use pattern changes on the habitat
and ecology of the Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) in the Indo-Gangetic flood
plains along with Mr B C Choudhary, a senior scientist with the WII. On my
first visit to the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in 1998 with B C, I met Dr
George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF)
and chairman IUCN-CSG, who was there to watch the Siberian Cranes with a
group if people from ICF. After a couple of years we decided to restart
the then defunct working group to save the cranes in Asia. In mid 2003
George invited me to visit the ICF for six months to write on Sarus Cranes
and learn how to manage an enterprise like the ICWWG.
the different Crane species found in India?
Four of the eight
cranes of the world are found in India. They are the Demoiselle cranes,
Sarus cranes, Common cranes and Blacknecked cranes.
Cranes were the most famous and the fifth species of crane that was found
in India and is extinct in the country since 2002. Except for the Sarus
cranes, the rest of them are not resident birds but migrate from other
countries to India. Cranes are considered sacred and so are not killed.
Comment on the use of Sarus cranes as flagship
The Sarus crane is called Krouncha in Sanskrit. Of the
estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Sarus cranes in India, a major chunk, about
3,000 are found in Etawah and Mainipuri districts of Uttar Pradesh. Since
their survival is dependent on the survival of wetlands, and they are
widely revered for their pair-bond, they can be ideal flagship species for
wetland conservation in India.
Highlight the role of ICWWG in
The Indian cranes and Wetlands Working Group
(ICWWG) was started in December 2002 as an independent project of the
Wildlife Protection Society of India, Delhi and supported by the
International Crane Foundation. We want to initially start building a
database on cranes across India and eventually Asia and implement
conservation projects involving different countries, since these birds are
As a starter, we will shortly organise a coordinated
crane and large water birds count in India, which will be a continuance of
the count organised by BC and WII from 1999-2001. We also want to network
with groups working with cranes and wetland conservation to minimise
repetition of work and ensure proper dissemination of information.
Finally, we will work towards implementing recommendations of research
projects by working with the government, which is the crucial part of a
The scene in
Information on cranes in Karnataka is lacking.
Tank-based irrigation in South India do not support these birds because
they need shallow waters. Only the Demoiselle crane is known to frequent
some of the wetlands in Belgaum and have been seen flying over in Coorg.
Some common cranes are also very infrequent here. We are hoping to
liason with the State Forest Departments and many NGOs in the state to
document the status and habits of these birds.
The latest in
The International Crane Foundation in
Wisconsin, USA is the only place in the world where there are captive
breeding facilities for all the 15 species of cranes of the world. An
interesting experiment is underway to teach captive bred Whooping Cranes
to migrate from Wisconsin to Florida using ultralight aircrafts. Cranes
are preocial birds meaning young imprint on birth. Whatever object they
first see after they hatch out is considered as the parent.
hatchling stage they are habituated to the sight and the humming sound of
the aircrafts. The pilots wear a crane like costume to ensure that young
birds are not imprinted on humans. The birds are trained to follow these
ultralights. Out of the three flocks trained, two of them migrated back
and forth between these places indicating that the project is partially
successful in restoring the migration route which had become extinct. The
real success will be when the reintroduced birds begin to breed in the
*Four of the eight crane species of the world are found in India.
They are the Demoiselle cranes, Sarus cranes, Common cranes and
Blacknecked cranes. The Siberian Crane - a fifth species is extinct
in the country since 2002.
*Of the estimated 8,000 to 10,000
Sarus cranes in India, a major chunk, about 3,000 are found in
Etawah and Mainipuri districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Karnataka, only the Demoiselle crane is known to frequent some of
the wetlands in Belgaum and have been seen flying over