Birds are back in Arunachal

Flights Of Fantasy

[ M Panging Pao ]

Arunachal Pradesh is considered one of the 18 ‘biodiversity hotspots’ in the world. With over 5,000 species of flowering plants, 500 varieties of orchids, diverse fauna, including major cats like tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard, the state also has a rich variety of over 850 plus bird species. The state bird of Arunachal Pradesh is the great hornbill.

However, the bird population in the state has reduced greatly during the last few years. The bird population has reduced due to loss of habitat, caused by large-scale deforestation. Large-scale loss of forest cover has occurred due to rampant felling of trees for timber business, shifting (jhum) cultivation, soil erosion by rivers, etc. Though banned by the Supreme Court, the timber business is increasing due to easy availability of handheld sawing machines.

However, the major cause of declining birds is rampant hunting with guns, especially airguns. With no licence required, thousands of airguns were bought to wipe out birds in the vicinity of our towns/villages. Wherever humans could go, they carried airguns and shot birds. Even children carried airguns to shoot birds and small preys. Within a few years of the proliferation of airguns, our villages turned into eerie, silent villages due total absence of birds. Any bird that could be seen were shot and eaten.

Traditionally, the native people lived in consonance with nature, alongside animals and birds. Birds are important to humans due the critical role of plant pollination, pest control, marking of seasons, melodious calls, etc. In fact, many bird parts are used for traditional medicines, ornamental dresses, headgear, etc.

To curb this loss of bird/animal population, the government started many wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and biosphere reserves. About 10 wildlife sanctuaries/national parks were opened in different parts of the state to preserve the flora and fauna, including wildlife and birds. Hunting and logging were banned in these sanctuaries and these were opened up to tourists for animal/bird watching. This led to the preservation of many species of plant and animal life, including birds.

Recently, something unique has occurred towards conservation of the bird species. In a probable first of its kind in the world, the state government, led by the chief minister and the forest minister, initiated the unique ‘airgun surrender abhiyan’ across the state. During the ongoing campaign, hundreds of airguns were surrendered across the state. In a magical occurrence, within a few weeks of surrender of airguns, birds can be spotted in increasing numbers in the vicinity of our houses, villages and forests. Suddenly mynas, parrots, woodpeckers, cuckoos, bulbuls, pigeons, sparrows, eagles, crows and fowls can be spotted in larger numbers. One can hear birds chirping and singing in the forests.

This single innovative idea is leading to the preservation of bird species at a societal and government level in the state. If this campaign is successful, we can soon hope to spot the great hornbill once again in our forests. Due next is ‘gun surrender abhiyan’.  (The contributor is retired Group Captain, Indian Air Force)