For Kanrei Horam, banning of bird hunting in and around his native Kharasom village in Manipur’s hill district of Ukhrul is simply good news. Because it will help in regenerating Yongchak trees and other agro-resources besides reviving loss habitat of the rare birds in his hill village which is located about 160 km north of state capital. Large scale hunting, use of pesticides, loss of habitat due to deforestation to meet the demands of an expanding population coupled by the changing climatic condition has threatened the rich biodiversity of Manipur hills and rendered certain bird species vanished from its existence in the region. The ban on bird hunting was in force following the villages’ yearly public sitting in January this year. “The reason behind the ban is related with the attack on village crops mostly in Yongchak (Perkia Timoriana) trees by unknown insects”, says 58 year old Kanrei, a key functionary of Kharasom village authority. “The incident(insect invasion) has severely affected Yongchak business last year.”
The insects which attacked Yongchak include Asian long horn beetle, according to Entomologist Kh Ibohal of Central Agriculture University in Imphal. Yongchak is a favourite delicacy of the Manipuris and one of the most delicious and sought dish during winter. It is sold at Rs 20 a piece in Imphal market in December. Every year, the villagers used to earn a very good income from the Yongchak business as most of the Yongchak trees are booked in advance by traders at the rate of Rs 10,000 to 30,000 a tree, according to the number of Yongchak on the trees. The decline in Yongchak production has directly affected the economy of the villages which houses around 400 households and most of them entirely depends their livelihood on the agro resources.
Like Kharasom, the production of Mandarin Orange (Citrus Reticulata), grown in Manipur’s orange belt Tamenglong, another hill district has been declined due to insect invasion and poor management of orange trees this year too. On the other hand Kharasom villagers used to kill 20 to 30 birds belonging to different species including the migratory ones on a daily basis. In view of the development, the ecological cycle of the village environment has been disturbed and subsequently helps in increasing the number of insects and affects the forest and other agricultural crops.
“Suspecting that the disappearance of birds in the village could be one of the reasons for the sudden increase of insects population and subsequent attack on Yongchak, the village authority takes up steps to ban hunting of birds”, Kanrei Horam informed. “Because, birds are insect eaters”. Because of extensive deforestation in Kharasom area (for cutting timbers) five years ago and subsequent indiscriminate killing, some of the colourful birds which were seen in the past have vanished from the village, according to a 45 year old housewife of new Kharasom village who doesn’t want to be named. “We don’t have the English names of those birds” she said.
Ornithologist RK Birjit of Center for Conservation of Nature and Cultivation of Science of Manipur University when contacted said that hill ranges under Ukhrul district bordering Myanmar are the habitat of Pheasant species including state bird Nongngin or Hume’s bar pheasant (Syrmaticus humiae). Though the Nongngin was declared as Manipur state bird in 1989, the bird itself has not been sighted in most parts of the state not to speak of Kharasom village. The little known pheasant is classified as “Near Threatened by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)”, according to a report by state coordinator Dr R.K. Ranjan of Indian bird conservation network.
Besides Pheasant species, the villagers of Kharasom also never noticed some of the smaller birds such as Swallow known as Sembang in local tongue in their courtyards since the last 5-6 years. “The loss of their habitat could be the reason for not sighting the bird in the village”, says Mungchan Zimik, a resident of Ukhrul town. “Earlier most of the houses in the villages have thatch roofs wherein the bird built their nests”. “In view of the killing of Amur falcons and many endangered bird species such as hornbill, pheasants etc. (in Tamenglong), the amount of Amur falcons visiting the district has been drastically reduced this winter,” says environment activist Dr Chambo of Tamenglong District.
Interestingly the sudden decease of the crow population in Manipur has led to the sudden decline of Heikreng commonly known as Stinkwood (Celtis timorensis), an important tree which was used as lighter during the funeral rites of the majority Meitei community since the time immemorial, according to environmentalist Dr Kh Shamungou. Heikreng seeds germinate very fast after they are softened inside the stomach of the crows. This indicates that birds play an important role in maintaining the economics of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the respective areas.
There is also a report about a small Siberian migratory bird locally known as shiri (grey sided thrush) have stopped visiting Shirui hills also under Ukhrul district following large scale felling of fruit-bearing trees including leihao leishang (michelia doltsopa) and poaching. Manipur is the favourite habitat of more than 500 bird species against India’s 1200 species and North East India’s 800 species. But so far we have recorded only half of the species available in Manipur, researcher RK Birjit said. “Around 57 species including 27 migratory and 30 resident birds and two nearly threatened species Ferrigunous Pocchard (Aytha nyroca), Darter (Ahimsa melonogaster) visited the Loktak,the largest fresh water lake in eastern India last year”, he added.
If the urgent step for the bird’s location and conservation is not taken up, some species are certain to vanish from Manipur. The state’s hill districts are no exception to the loss and drifting pattern of biodiversity.