Page last updated at 18:13 GMT, Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Ray of hope for endangered bird

By Omer Farooq
BBC News, Hyderabad

Jerdon's courser (Simon Cook/BirdLife)
There may only be 25 of the small wading birds left in the world (Image: Simon Cook/BirdLife)
The only known habitat of India's rarest bird may yet be saved from destruction in a last-minute effort to re-route an irrigation canal.

A committee appointed by India's Supreme Court has asked the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to submit a report with alternative routes for the Telugu Ganga canal in southern India.

The elusive Jerdon's courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus) was thought extinct in 1900, but was dramatically rediscovered in 1985 in the forest area of the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh.

Listen to the call of the Jerdon's courser

Building work for the canal is currently on hold and the government committee will meet again on 8 March.

There may be only 25 of the small wading birds left, with most found in the Sri Lankamalleswara wildlife sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh.

'Serious peril'

The irrigation department's plans to lay the canal through the sanctuary have angered wildlife conservationists.

The Jerdon's courser is probably more endangered than the tiger or rhinoceros
Dr Asad Rahmani, Bombay Natural History Society
They warn if the canal is built in the area, it will place the courser in serious peril.

The four-member committee constituted by the Supreme Court met wildlife experts and state government officials in Hyderabad on Tuesday to hear the complaints against the canal.

It now looks like there might be a last-minute ray of hope for the Jerdon's courser if the BNHS can come up with a suitable new route.

According to one of the BNHS researchers, Dr Jaganathan, the organisation had suggested an alternate route during the meeting. But the officials told him the route was not feasible for the government.

Jaganathan said a solution acceptable to all sides would now have to be found.

'Unnecessary burden'

Construction of the canal is well advanced, but work was halted late last year when conservationists realised the extent of the danger facing the courser.

A Jerdon's courser's footprint (P.Jeganathan)
Few people alive today have seen the Jerdon's courser (Image: P.Jeganathan)
The issue has evoked keen international interest from the bird watchers and wildlife conservationists, including the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has said the courser's extinction would be a tragic and unnecessary burden for Indian authorities to bear.

The BNHS and RSPB have said shifting the canal's path at least a mile from the sanctuary boundary would be enough to prevent building work affecting the bird.

Dr Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society, said: "The Jerdon's courser is probably more endangered than the tiger or rhinoceros and every effort should be made to protect its habitat, even if that means changing the whole irrigation plan.

"It is only found in a 20-sq-km area in and around Sri Lankamalleswara sanctuary, and if we lose this area we will be saying goodbye to the species for good."

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