Thung thung karmo (Black-necked crane)

[ Chukhhu Loma ]

“It is that time of the year again; the largest migratory birds are here in the valley.”

Sangti is a pristine valley in Dirang circle of West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. It is here that the majestic black-necked cranes come for wintering and raising their little ones. This valley is one of the only two wintering grounds in India, both of which are in Arunachal Pradesh. The other site is Zemithang in the neighbouring district of Tawang.

The birds are revered very highly by the locals, and their arrival marks the end of the harvest season as they land on the recently harvested paddy fields. People believe that they are supposed to bring good luck and indicate a good harvest and overall prosperity. Even so, over the past few years, there has been a drastic decline in the size of the flocks. People recall the times when used to witness a flock of as many as 12 black-necked cranes arriving in the valley and stay over for as long as two or three months. Sadly, now the duration of their stay has receded to as little as one week.

Why? With keen observation over time, locals and conservationists have listed some immediate factors for that, which are as follows:

# First, ever since the valley became a tourist hotspot, there has been a heavy flow of tourists. Without any concrete guidelines to follow, they rush to get pictures of the bird from up close. This agitates the birds and tampers with their foraging.

# Apart from the tourists, even some of the locals from within the state picnic on the same grounds that the birds stay on. The hustle and activities around disturb their supposed-to-be peaceful stay.

# There are high-tension wires running right through the paddy fields that have proved fatal in the past, as one bird got electrocuted and never made it back home. This is a serious loss.

# Lastly, feral dogs in the area, if not checked, run and try to attack the birds.

Now, as to what all of these ultimately means is that, if some immediate and strict measures are not taken, we could lose these already vulnerable, majestic migratory birds. The fact that they choose this valley and a few other spots around the area, namely Chug and Jingkha, would be history.

Having listed out the problems, now I would like to mention the measures we have devised to address the problems.

# First, we took the initiative of commencing discussions with the local GB and villagers to keep a check on the tourists visiting the valley. The flow of tourists must be regulated, especially for the duration of the birds’ stay.

# Discourage excess human activities in the vicinity of the black-necked cranes.

# Picnics in the valley should be halted till the birds return to their home.

# The existing power lines should either be shifted towards the hillside or laid underground to provide the birds a safe flight zone.

# Immediate construction of a watchtower, so that enthusiasts can watch and take pictures from a safe distance.

# Conducting of education and awareness programmes among the locals.

# Installation of prohibition signs that tell the dos and don’ts and how visitors must conduct themselves.

# Lastly, appointing local guides to provide the tourists a guided tour and also manually keep a check on miscreants.

These birds are our revered guests, and, since people have already come up with ways to cash in on its identity, I believe the duty to provide the birds a safe and healthy stay effectively falls upon us.

You have made your profits owing to the black-necked cranes; now let’s be grateful and do something good as a token of thankfulness.

The drastic decrease in their numbers and the shorter duration of their stay are an alarming indicator.

This is, in a way, an SOS call to save this incredible bird and their habitat. Act now. (Chukhhu Loma is DFO, Bomdila Division, West Kameng)