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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Hunting is second nature to the Nagas, just life eating and sleeping. Hunting animals and human heads formed a core part of their culture, with many of their religious ceremonies centered around this practice. With the advent of the missionaries the head hunting practice came to an end albeit hunting of animals for food still continues. Today this practice is threatening to wipe out the sparse population of mammals found here;  the  Hornbill once found in plentiful is to be seen no more. In this perspective the village of Khonoma has set a very unique example by protecting a large part of their community forests. This Naga village is the stronghold of the Angami tribe, one of the sixteen major tribes of Nagaland.

Bumps, potholes and even larger potholes characterised the twenty kilometer stretch from Kohima to Khonoma. The apathetic condition of a road so close to the capital surprised me. The village bore a very tranquil look when I reached there in the early afternoon. Tsile, my host picked me up from the stand guiding me to his place. As we climbed up to his house I noticed that the houses   were quite dispersed unlike some of the other Naga villages I had been to. After exchanging a few pleasantries piping hot lunch was served, acting as the perfect medicine for my growling tummy.

Angami sibblings

Later that evening Tsile took me through the village explaining the cultural and historic significance of the village. In the Angami dialect the village is pronounced as ‘Khwunomia’ which is a conjunction of the words ‘Khwuno’ and ‘Mia’.   Khwuno is the name of a small plant found in plentiful around the village while Mia translates to dwellers. Geographically the village is divided into three sections called khels, namely Thevoma, Mehume and Semoma. Every khel represents one major clan, acting as the administrative and political body. Since the head hunting days each khel had their own fort to keep an eye on  their enemies. The Angamis especially those from Khonoma were fierce warriors legendary for their bravery. They fought with the British thrice, keeping them at bay for the first two times. Wading our way through the narrow village lanes we reached the house of Anguile, a basket weaver. The village amongst many other things is also well known for its craftsmanship. Anguile a two time national award recipient was transforming ordinary bamboo into skilfully woven baskets, as though there was some magic in his fingers.

Early next morning I strolled through the village moving towards the stupendous terraced fields I intended to photograph. Khonoma is very famous for its technique of terraced fields, so much so that many people have actually undertaken studies on the same. The fields are so perfectly terraced that they can make water go around in an entire circle. So fascinated were some of the British officers that they wrote eloquently about the terraced fields in their notes.

Terraced fields

Over the next few days I got to learn more and more about the conservation initiative taken by this village. Khonoma stands out amongst all Naga villages not because of its bravery or craftsmanship but because of the fact that they have banned logging and hunting in their community managed forest. In the early 90s there was rampant logging around Khonoma, mainly undertaken by contractors from the plains. At one point there were around 130 elephants being used to ferry high quality timber from interior parts of the forest to truckable points. Some of the village elders were foresighted enough to see that the intensity of logging activities threatened to wipe out their forest. They realized that survival and security of the future generation depended heavily on the forest.  With this understanding the village council laid a ban on logging in their community forest, with Tsile playing a lead role in convincing the villagers. In 1998 the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS) was formally institutionalised with a total ban on logging and hunting. Thanks to the foresight of Tsile and some of the village elders the forests are teaming with birds. The sanctuary has now become a major hotspot within the birding community.

By the end of my six days I became an integral part of Tsile’ family.  This is what I love most about my travels and working with communities, it gives me a deep sense of human relationship I can never feel in the cities. I keep finding a new home in every place I visit.

See the beauty of Khonoma

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In the month of November there were a spate of attacks by Himalayan Black Bears in various towns in Sikkim. All of a sudden the bears had begun to scavenge on garbage dumps invariably creating a man-animal conflict. The issue was becoming quite serious with the number of  casualties increasing and the forest department finding itself incapable of handling the situation.  Instead of trying to understand the root cause of the issue the forest department was only interested in tranquillising the bears and getting them back into the forest. this exercise proved to be an expensive one as the inexperienced Chief Conservator of Wildlife was badly mauled by a bear during this activity.

At a time when everybody seemed to be more concerned about protecting human lives rather than those of the bears , there was one person who stood out for them. My good friend and IFS officer Sandeep Tambe decided to write an article in the local newspaper to educate the people regarding the real issue. As it turned out, the issue was that there was an autumn famine in the forests because of which there was a severe shortage of bear food in the forest.  The article below finally prompted the forest department to rethink the problem with a different mindset.

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 Manas – A land endowed with varied biodiversity, exceptional beauty and rich cultural traditions
Colour Sergeant mating
Colour Sergeant mating
Great Pied Hornbill
Great Pied Hornbill

 

                                                                                                                                

Sunset over the Manas
Sunset over the Manas
For the land is not without its people

For the land is not without its people

See more of the winged beauties

Take a peek of Manas’ biodiversity

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Conservation of natural biodiversity is increasingly becoming a challenge in our insatiably materialistic age. Pristine forests are being indiscriminately hacked causing their helpless inhabitants to vanish from the face of the earth. To tackle the issue of wildlife conservation there are many scientific organizations. But seldom does one see high levels of zeal from a local community to protect the forests they once destroyed, especially from a community once dreaded as gun trotting insurgents. Such is the story of Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism society, a group of locals who through their own motivation and dedication started the uphill task of conserving the forests of Manas, without any outside assistance. My two and a half month stay with them as a volunteer was truly a phenomenal experience.

The seeds of this organization germinated from the violent past of the Bodo movement. For many years the Bodos had been suppressed by the state government, forcing them to start a mass political movement for a separate state. This political agitation came to a halt in 1993 after the signing of a tripartite agreement between the Bodo leaders, Central government and State government. But a couple of years after signing the accord, frustrated by the failure of the government to implement the agreement, the Bodos grouped together to form an armed outfit under the banner of Bodo Liberation Tigers to press for their demands.

This was the dark period during which Manas was depleted of its resources. Since the southern boundary of Manas spans across the entire Bodo dominated territory, there was vast deforestation. Due to the complete breakdown of the law and order situation in and around Manas, the locals often took shelter in the forest to escape the atrocities of the policing forces. Taking advantage of this lawless situation, some unscrupulous businessmen started forming organized groups for poaching and felling, which got free access to the park. Some groups of poachers made sporadic attacks on the forest offices causing destruction to most of the protection camps in the park . This grim situation compelled the forest guards to abandon almost all the protection camps. The situation was so perilous that UNESCO declared it as a world heritage site in danger.

Even during these troubled times a small group of Bodo youth from the Chapaguri Koklabari Anchalik Committee in the Koklabari area went ahead with their crusade of conserving Manas. They conducted motivation campaigns at selected areas where tree felling and poaching were rampant, asking the local villagers to refrain from their destructive activities by seeking other means of livelihood. At length, the student leaders of the committee put forward a crucial proposal for the protection of Manas while establishing it as an international tourist destination. The committee members urged their top leaders to place the issue of conserving Manas National Park, making it an international tourists destination, at the negotiating table while the leaders were exercising cease-fire with the Central and State governments. This event marked the beginning of the transition of the Bodo mindset from terrorism to tourism.

In 2003 when the Bodo Accord for creating Bodoland Territorial Areas Districts was finally signed, the issue of restoring Manas National Park whilst making it an international tourist spot was incorporated as one of the special packages within it. Enthused by this development, some people from the Koklabari area came up with the idea of creating a bird watching centre cum tourist spot. Thus in December 2003 Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society (MMES) was born with the objective of conserving Manas National Park as also to restore it back to its former glory.

The initial two years were a testing period for the organization, due to limited funding coupled with stiff resistance from the local people. To start with, awareness campaigns denouncing poaching and logging were conducted in some of the fringe villages. The members of the Society personally went and spoke to the families of hardened poachers, explaining to them the ills of the profession. As a result a group of fifty poachers succumbed to the social pressure, giving up their arms to work instead as conservation volunteers with the Society. With the help of these poachers, a survey of the forest was conducted so as to locate the areas where there was maximum poaching and logging. After identifying these areas, patrolling was commenced with volunteers. In the beginning the guards faced lots of hardship as there were no permanent protection camps in the forest. There were instances when just five or six of the volunteers were attacked by a group of fifty loggers, despite which they overpowered the loggers. The society did not even have money to pay remuneration to the guards, but their rations were taken care of. Seeing this level of dedication and commitment, the then park director Mr. Abhijit Rabha gave his complete support to the society, assisting in every possible way. The forest department along with the society joined forces to slowly eradicate all the poaching camps from within the park.

From poachers to protectors

From poachers to protectors

Over the years MMES has increased the gamut of their activities manifold. Currently there are 11 protection camps where the conservation guards stay throughout the year to patrol the national park, covering an area of more than 300 sq. kilometers. To provide logistical support to these camps MMES has built a network of roads extending more than 60 kilometers. Since the road network forms the backbone for the conservation activities, they are regularly maintained. The conservation guards patrol the forest on a daily basis to ensure that there are no illegal activities. Oftentimes they go deep into the forest for two to three days, camping in make shift shelters.

Understanding the importance that the grasslands play in the ecosystem, the MMES annually maintain the grasslands by burning them in a controlled way.  Their consistent efforts have paid off as today there is neither any poaching nor logging happening in the areas being patrolled by them. Wildlife populations have surged back as have the migratory birds. In fact, the resurgence of the elephant population is creating a man- animal conflict where the elephants often damage the houses of villagers. In such cases, MMES is paying the affected villagers compensation to repair the house. Monitoring of endangered species has been reinstated with the assistance of outside researchers. A conservation and monitoring centre of the critically endangered Bengal Florican has been set up in the Koklabari farm. Awareness campaigns are regularly held in fringe villages for educating the people on the importance of conserving the rich biodiversity of Manas. School children are taught to appreciate their rich inheritance by taking them on excursions in the national park.

Manas Jungle Camp

Manas Jungle Camp

MMES’s long cherished dream to make Manas into an international tourist destination was accomplished in 2005 when the first foreign tourist stayed at their Jungle camp.    This was thanks to the initiative by Help Tourism who spent a lot of time,effort and money in working with MMES for developing the tourism capacity over here.   They conducted many trainings and workshops for the MMES boys  to cater to the needs of the tourists.  Besides Help Tourism also put in a great deal of effort on the conservation front, by conducting many surveys for wildlife inventory.   The Jungle camp has five traditional huts made of mud and bamboo which are equipped with modern facilities to accommodate tourists. Open jeep safaris, bird watching, jungle trails, rafting on the Manas, cultural trails are some of the options which MMES offers to tourists depending on their interest. Their idea behind initiating tourism service has been, both complimentary and supplementary to their conservation activities. As a community, they want to show the world that Manas has regained its past beauty and is no more an endangered world heritage site. The greater challenge confronting the MMES has been to shed the perception of being an insurgent community, a view which is still prevalent among many outsiders. The other equally important task on hand has been to fund their conservation activities. With very limited sources of revenue for their conservation activities, tourism has been providing them with the much needed funds.

Taking encouragement from the excellent work being done by MMES in the Koklabari area, six other NGOs with a similar model have started operating in other areas in Manas.  Visibility about their tremendous effort will play an important role in the long term sustainability of their work. What Manas needs today is for us to support and appreciate this phenomenal community initiative, and to assist in dispelling the false notion of the Bodos as a gun-toting community because they are truly a warm and cultured community, their hospitality well worth experiencing.

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