Mishmi hills: The last frontier of wildlife in Arunachal

[ Tajum Yomcha ]
Arunachal Pradesh is bestowed with a huge diversity of habitats and species, making it the 18th global biodiversity hotspot of the world. It is home to many species of endangered and endemic plants and animals. The state’s forests are known for contributing over 5000 species of plants, 500 different birds, 100 terrestrial mammals, and a wide number of insects, butterflies and reptiles, and many newer species getting discovered now and then.
However, with the shrinkage of the green cover and the rapid decline of floral and faunal species throughout the state, we are also experiencing an impact on the state’s ecological system. By birth we are forest dwellers, and forest-based products form a part of our livelihood. In earlier times, the products from the forests were derived sustainably through the traditional manner, but with the advent of rapid modernization and introduction of modern technology, our requisites are being taken over by greed. This is evident from the fact that we are losing our biodiversity at a much faster rate, bringing many of our fauna to the brink of local extinction.
Direct sighting of wild animals in Arunachal is turning into a distant dream. Much of the state is facing this alarming situation. A villager from central Arunachal says, “Earlier we could see hornbills in abundance flying in the evening skies” – a sight he describes as an enigma now.
This is where the Mishmi hills, in eastern Arunachal, contribute significantly in maintaining and restoring our already dilapidated regional biodiversity. A major portion of the Mishmi hills falls under the two Dibang Valley districts of Arunachal – Upper and Lower – and a small portion of it falls under Lohit district.
Due to its varied altitudinal ranges, extending from 400 m to 3600 m, and geographic location, it supports varied vegetation types characterized by tropical evergreen forests to temperate coniferous forests, thus supporting an array of plants and animal diversity – probably the richest in terms of diversity in India.
In terms of faunal species richness, there are more than 100 mammalian species and more than 600 species of avi-fauna recorded from the Mishmi hills. With the kind of richness in bird diversity, and the ever increasing growth of birders in the country, the Mishmi hills is turning into a favourite and sought-after destination for the birders in the country. This is the only region in India that is home to many endemic and rare birds. To name a few are the rare Scalaters monal, the Bengal florican, the Ward’s trogon, the Blyth’s tragopan, the Mishmi wren-babblers (endemic), the Temminck’s tragopan, the green cochoa, the purple cochoa, the beautiful nuthatch, the fire-tailed myzornis, the Gould’s shortwing, the grey-headed parrotbill, the silvered-eared mesia, and many more.
These birds not only provide free ecological services but the number of birdwatchers flocking to the Mishmi hills provide a source of employment generation to many unemployed youths of the area, viz, in the form of local guides and providing opportunities for wayside amenities and homestays for visiting guests.
Butterfly watching is another fast-growing tourism-based activity, and with the presence of more than 200 species of butterflies (rare and endangered) recorded from the Mishmi hills, this area is another exciting place for the butterfly lovers and researchers alike. Most of the Mishmi hills remain unexplored, and many more species of butterflies are waiting to be discovered. A couple of rare and endangered butterflies from the Mishmi hills are De NicĂ©ville’s windmill and the Khaki Silverline.
The Mishmi hills are located at the junction of the northeastern Himalaya and the Indo-Burma ranges and, owing to this geographic location, the diversity and richness of its faunal species is huge for the area. It is home to the rare and vulnerable Mishmi takin (deriving its name from the Mishmi tribe), an ungulate which prefers a habitat at a higher altitude (1000-4000 m). It is also home to many species of ungulates like the barking deer, sambar, the red goral, the Himalayan serow, gaur and musk deer at higher elevations, etc. These animals act as prey base for many predators, thus maintaining an ecological balance.
Among the primates, there are two species of apes found in India – the western hoolock gibbon and eastern hoolock gibbon. The lower reaches of the Mishmi hills are home to the newly described Mishmi Hills hoolock gibbon, which is another feather on the cap for the already biodiversity-rich area. The newly described Mishmi hills flying squirrel is also an addition to the biodiversity of the region.
It is home to a diverse group of predators, ranging from small carnivores to large ones. The recently published paper (2019) on the six different coat colour morph in the golden cat from the Mishmi hills is testimony that, apart from animal diversity, there is also a presence of morphological diversity within the species of the region.
During 2012, a chance rescue of three tiger cubs from Angrim valley in Anini had created a stir among the tiger conservationists in India as that was the highest elevation (1968 m) of tiger record in India at that point of time.
India hosts 70 percent of the global tiger population, but very little information was available on the population from the temperate region. A three-year research conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India recorded 11 different individuals and two cubs from the Mishmi hills in 2017, concluding that the Mishmi hills has the highest elevation record of tiger presence in India, at an altitude of 3630 metres.
Apart from large carnivores like tiger, the Mishmi hills is also home to many endangered and elusive cats like the marbled cat, the clouded leopard, the common leopard and smaller cats like the leopard cat, jungle cat, etc.
The Mishmi hills are probably one of the few green covers left in Arunachal where the biodiversity is still intact. Nowhere else in Arunachal can one find such pristine habitat for the wildlife to prosper, owing to the fact that the remaining parts in the state are subjected to excessive hunting, deforestation, unplanned infrastructure development, etc.
The Mishmi hills are a jewel among the forested habitats in Arunachal. There is an urgent need to preserve its biodiversity at all costs. The participation of all the stakeholders (the forest department, the community, and community-based organisations) in a sustainable manner will extensively help in the preservation of the last frontier of thriving wildlife in Arunachal Pradesh. (The writer is Research Officer, Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Changlang)