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Nagaland making efforts to conserve state bird

By Alice Yhoshü Updated: Jun 27, 2016 12:40 am

Until recently, the state was no more than a killing field as far as its wildlife story was concerned. But of late, thanks to conservation efforts, there has been a visible change to the people’s outlook. Yet it has somehow ignored the Blyth’s tragopan – relegating its status to that of a wildlife Cinderella. It is time we restore the bird to its rightful place at the top, writes Our Correspondent Alice Yhoshu.   

KOHIMA, JUNE 24 : While the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has set this year’s environment agenda to ‘Go Wild for Life’ with a focus on illegal trade in wildlife which is considered to be pushing many species of wildlife towards extinction, Nagaland is also struggling to preserve the dwindling population of its state bird – the endangered Blyth’s tragopan (tragopan blythii).

The tragopan is a Schedule-I bird as per the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which means it is supposed to be provided absolute protection and offences under this schedule are prescribed the highest penalties which include a 3-year-jail term and a fine. However, despite the stated law, and also the fact that this pheasant is the state’s official bird, there is no concrete policy for its conservation and the tragopan was widely hunted for its flesh and beautiful plumage, particularly of the males. A pair of tragopans is said to be priced as high as Rs.15,000-20,000 in black market.
Coupled with the hunting menace, rapid deforestation owing to jhum cultivation and timber logging is also considered to be a major factor in the decreasing population of the Blyth’s tragopan as forests provide for its habitat and food. The tragopan has now been classified as ‘vulnerable’ under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List for threatened birds.

According to forest officials, the now rare and endangered bird is mainly found on the colder and hillier eastern zone of the state like the Japfü range, Dzükou valley and Khonoma in Kohima district, Pfutsero and Meluri in Phek district, the foothills of Saramati, Fakim Wildlife Sanctuary and Noklak in Tuensang district and Mount Pauna and Benreu in Peren district.

The fact that tragopan population is dwindling calls for immediate remedial measures to save them from further depletion. However, no official survey has been conducted so far, and there is no official/government data to determine even the approximate number of the remaining tragopan population in the state.

The only streak of silver lining is that, awareness for conservation among communities is said to be increasing gradually in the recent years and the forest department is also putting more efforts to preserve the bird through natural habitat management and captive breeding.

The Old Kohima Zoological Park which was converted to Tragopan Conservation & Breeding Centre in 2012 is currently home to 12 matured Blyth’s tragopan – 6 females and 5 males – and two newly hatched chicks. The breeding centre in Kohima is considered the only one of its kind in the country.

The centre’s officer-in-charge, forest ranger Keneikrul told Eastern Mirror that this was the first time the centre has had a successful hatching. The first egg, he said, was hatched on May 27 and the second on June 11.

It was learnt that visiting officials from Central Zoo Authority (CZA), the statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, who were in the state recently for evaluation of works, also visited the breeding centre in Kohima to see the new chicks.

“Our small team here at the breeding centre gave a lot of efforts and we are very happy to have had the first successful hatching in about 10 years here,” Keneikrul says. He divulged that it could be due to an improvised strategy which the team had taken on since December last. This, he said, included a rodent and disturbance-free environment and a special diet consisting of apples, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, boiled eggs, meal worms and termites.

According to the official, both the male and female birds are very protective of the chicks, more than domestic fowls. He explained that the tragopans breed once a year and the months of March and April were the mating season, while the incubating period is of 28-35 days. On conservation efforts in the natural habitats, he is optimistic that awareness is spreading and many villages are now outlawing hunting. Also, he feels that the younger generations today are more conscious of issues related to conservation. And they are “fortunately” not very interested in the meat of wild animals, he quipped.

The sad reflection is that most people confuse the hornbill for the state bird of Nagaland, perhaps forgetting that the distinction has been reserved to the Blyth’s tragopan. Somehow, quite strangely, the Naga obsession with the Amur falcon and the hornbill appears to have relegated the tragopan to the backseat. Perhaps, it is time we brought tragopan to the forefront.

By Alice Yhoshü Updated: Jun 27, 2016 12:40:06 am