Saturday, March 7, 2009

Vanishing Species - Jerdon's Courser

An article by Mohan Pai

Jerdon’s Courser

Rhinoptilus bitorquatus

The Jerdon's Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus) also known as Doublebanded Courser, is a nocturnal bird belonging to the pratincole and courser family Glareolidae endemic to the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh. The bird was discovered by the surgeon-naturalist Thomas C. Jerdon in 1848 but not seen again until 1986.
Naturalists searched for it in its native habitat in eastern India but without success. In 1975/76 the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) launched another search for it. The BNHS circulated posters showing a coloured picture of the bird in the Pennar river valley in southern Andhra Pradesh. There was a note in Telugu accompanying the posters. One day a tribal said he had seen the bird shown in the poster and that it was known as Kalivi-Kodi in Telugu. He said the birds moved in groups of seven to eight and fed at night.
In January 1976 a poacher caught a Kalivi-Kodi but by the time a representative of the BNHS reached him the bird had died. But the scientists were closing in on the bird and soon afterwards they saw some of them in their natural surroundings. They watched entranced. Their long search was over!The kalivi-kodi was indeed Jerdon's Courser and it was alive and well!
Historically, it was known from just a few records in the Pennar and Godavari river valleys and was assumed to be extinct until its rediscovery around Lankamalai in 1986. It has since been found at six further localities in the vicinity of the Lankamalai, Velikonda and Palakonda hill-ranges, southern Andhra Pradesh, with all localities probably holding birds from a single population.
Still, with only a few birds sighted, today the Jerdon's Courser is categorized as critically endangered in the World Conservation Union's Red List and is also listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and is considered as priority species under the National Wildlife Action Plan (2002 – 2016) of the Government of India.
This bird was known only from a few historical records and was thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1986. It remains critically endangered due to loss of habitat. It is nocturnal in habit and presumed to be insectivorous. Being a rare bird, nothing is known yet about its behaviour and nesting habits.Population estimates for the bird range from between 25 and 200. Recent studies have made use of techniques such as camera trapping and carefully placed strips of fine sand to record footprints from which estimates of population density are made. The known world population of the species is restricted to a very small region and attempts have been made to find new areas by distributing pictures and small electronic call players to people in neighbouring regions that share similar habitats.In 1988 the Indian Postal Service released a stamp to commemorate the rediscovery.

Given that it is so poorly known, it is difficult to identify specific threats, although its habitat is becoming increasingly scarce and fragmented. Following the construction of the Somasilla Dam, 57 villages were displaced and relocated within the Lankamalai, Palgonda and Seshachellam areas, which were previously inaccessible. The dependence of the settlers on the area for resources may pose a serious threat to
habitat through fuelwood-collection and livestock-grazing, and to the birds themselves through increased disturbance. In addition, extensive quarrying is destroying habitat.
The habitat area of Jerdon’s Courser
Suitable habitat for the species lying outside Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary is threatened by the proposed construction of the Telugu-Ganga Canal in Cuddapah District, although mitigation measures proposed will result in an increased area of habitat becoming available for management by the Forestry Department.

References: Wikipedia, Birdlife International, Dimdima kids (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan)

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