Lesser florican, also called “Kharmor”, is highly endangered and an endemic species. These magnificent birds were being sighted in a very small area in the Sailana Kharmor Sanctuary in Ratlam district in western Madhya Pradesh.
Kharmor has been mating and nesting during the monsoon season in the “beeds” or meadows that were still existing over little patches of land in the midst of intensive cultivation of soyabean on fragmented landholdings acquired from the local erstwhile ruler at a throwaway price by powerful farmers (Patidars) after the Land Ceiling Act has been enforced.
One could spot these birds during the monsoon season at Amba, Sherpur but more particularly in the Naulakha beed and Shikaarvadi area of Sailana Kharmor Sanctuary in Ratlam district.
In recent years, excessive human pressure inside the Protected Area – both at Sailana and Sardarpur in western Madhya Pradesh — has played havoc and threatened the survival of this magnificent Lesser Florican.
The “Beeds” or the grasslands of Sailana progressively have got swallowed by farmers who are recklessly encroaching upon the breeding grounds of Kharmor, a highly endangered and a rare species that is fighting a losing battle and is on the verge of extinction. Besides the expansion of agriculture through the occupation of newer territories by the farmers, the other factors responsible for the diminishing number of Lesser Floricans include reckless grazing and also the pressure of the nomadic tribes from neighbouring States that every year cross through this part of the State to feed their huge stock of sheep and loads of camels. Mining of basalt for road construction, early cutting of grass due to the exodus of landless labourers, who are mostly the Bhils that migrate to other states in search of employment from September onwards, are also factors responsible for bringing down the numbers of the endangered bird. The sightings of this bird were extremely rare till a few years ago in the Sardarpur Sanctuary in Dhar district near Indore. 2013 onwards, during our field visits to that area, not a single Kharmor had been spotted.
August through September 2013, during field visits to Sailana, our team spotted 11 lesser floricans in the Shikarwadi area. A total of about half a dozen more of these birds were sighted at Amba and Sherpur. In this way, a dozen-and-half lesser floricans—could be seen during the 2013 monsoon in the Sailana Sanctuary and maximum of these were in the area lying between Sailana town and Govardhanpura village at Shikarwadi area of Sailana Kharmor Sanctuary. Subsequent research and collation of data established that there was – to be precise – a 25 per cent drop in the sighting of this bird in comparison with the 2012 monsoon season when 33 of these birds were sighted in this area. The total area of Sardarpur sanctuary is 34812.177 hectare. Of the total area, 568.443 hectare is protected forest, 34244.734 hectare is revenue land.
Bhurighati, Rajgarh, Khedi and Dattigaon, Devli, Suhana villages define the northern, eastern, southern and western boundaries of Sardarpur Sanctuary. Villagers informed our investigators that the private meadows or “beeds” of Panpura village. have remained the main habitat for lesser florican in this area. Earlier, the endangered bird was also using the meadows of Karnavad, Dhulet, Songarh, Amodia, Bimrod, Gumanpura, Semila, Chadawad, Piparni, Semlia, Keria, Siyawad, Mahapura, Bhangarh and Timaychi for breeding purpose. Besides the Lesser Florican, other bird species, including the sarus crane, have also been using this area as their breeding ground.
Now, with growing biotic pressure, it is an entirely a different story and the Lesser Florican has not been sighted by anyone in the Sardarpur area for the last couple of years.
To Conserve the Lesser Florican and its habitat, there should be a shift in conservation paradigm from a site-based protection approach to a community-based approach, a site-specific evaluation of conditions, attitudes and current levels of knowledge is also essential. The strategy to go for resettlement of rights is a step in the right direction.
Sailana Sanctuary in Ratlam District, is situated within the Malwa plateau in Central India. This Sanctuary has been identified as an Internationally Important Bird Area. The habitat is predominantly tropical grassland interspersed with agricultural fields consisting of pure grasslands and grass patches in crop fields and grazing lands. The grasslands and croplands within the sanctuary are jointly owned by agriculturists and landholders from these villages. An area of about 200 ha within the sanctuary is known as the Naulakha grasslands or Naulakha beed. The area was originally well wooded and consisted of teak and palash. This area now is mostly treeless grassland dominated by the grass type Sehima nervosum-Chrysopogon fulvus. Pure grasslands are found in the traditionally protected areas like Shikarwadi (the hunting lodge in the naulakha grasslands).
The area covered by pure grasslands is however decreasing rapidly due to conversion to agricultural fields. The extended grasslands of Sherpur and Amba in Ratlam district have smaller grasslands measuring between one to two hectares interspersed with crops. There are about 20 additional grasslands with sizes varying from 20 ha to 400 ha scattered in the Ratlam district that could also be good habitat for the Lesser. But the grasslands are rapidly shrinking as there is too much of human pressure and even as portion
In the year 2015, the first sighting of a pair of endangered Lesser florican was recorded in the Naulakha beed of Shikarwadi area of Sailana Sanctuary on July 22. This was confirmed by the Sub-divisional officer (SDO) of Sailana Sanctuary Bhagwati Pawar. The first spotting of the Lesser Florican was reported from the Shikarwadi area of Sailana in the later part of July 2014. In 2014, a total of only 18 birds were spotted in the Sailana sanctuary. Amba and Sherpur are two other places in Sailana where the rare birds stay for three months but highest number of birds stays in Shikarwadi area.
A short journey by road from Shikarwadi in Sailana Sanctuary takes you to Amba. If one takes a wrong fork of the dirt track which is dotted with small ponds created by rain water during the monsoon, one comes across a stone quarry bordering the Amba protected area. It has now been shut down with the intervention of forest authorities.
Study conducted by Lalit Shastri, founder President CREW, and his team