Taking the world’s largest known Sarus Crane population under your wing can’t be easy, but K.S. Gopi Sundar, wildlife conservationist, did just that. He was at the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun in 1998 when he discovered that Uttar Pradesh was home to the largest population of the Sarus. He found that the bird in southwestern UP didn’t go for seasonal migration, and that breeding pairs maintained territories throughout the year. Subsequently, his work in the area helped establish how the state, especially Etawah and Mainpuri districts, was a unique habitat where cranes thrived alongside farming and farmers.
At the moment, Sundar is busy leading the newly established SarusScape, a project with the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation and the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation. The team is studying factors that maximise cropland areas for overall bird diversity. This includes identifying wetlands best for wildlife conservation and efficient ways to conserve them. “The findings,” says Sundar, “will have implications on how we perceive ‘wilderness’ and how we ensure creation of meaningful policies to preserve the most important natural resource—water—in the most threatened ecosystem, the wetlands.” Currently, he is expanding locations from UP to the foothills of Nepal and Himachal Pradesh, as also the farmlands of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Australia.