New Delhi: In a bid to develop a conservation plan for the critically endangered Great Indian Bustard, non-governmental organisations and the Rajasthan government have come together to undertake a dog census in the Thar region.

Controlling the dog population is an important part of the conservation plan because the free-roaming dogs are known to hunt Bustard eggs and chicks.

The Great Indian Bustard is classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Its numbers fell from around 1,260 in 1969 to around 300 in 2008. Recent surveys estimate a surviving population of less than 100, with around 80 in Rajasthan alone.

Though a majority of the birds are in Rajasthan, they are also in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka where they are thought to be at risk of extinction.

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In 2013, Rajasthan government had earmarked 12.9 crore for conserving GIB.

To protect the bird, the conservation work is being spearheaded by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in collaboration with the Rajasthan government, several NGOs and the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC).

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As part of the conservation project, WII commissioned Humane Society International (HSI) India, an NGO, to survey and then draw up a plan to manage the dog population through sterilization in the Thar region, the habitat of the bustard.

“A dog population survey, followed by a humane and scientific dog population control program will help in protecting the habitat of the Great Indian Bustard without resorting to cruel and illegal dog culling," said Amit Chaudhari, who is senior manager for HSI’s monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment program.

The team of HSI India and WII researchers are using a mobile app created by HSI to conduct such dog population surveys. Out of the 78 villages located in the habitat, HSI India has identified a random sample of 15 villages (which is about 20 %) to survey the dog population. The average dog population in these villages will be extrapolated to give an estimated number of dogs in the habitat.