Logging A Significant Threat To Hornbills, Says Field Biologist Nandini Velho
Photo: Rohan Pandit.
Arunachal Pradesh celebrated its first and only wildlife-themed festival, The Pakke Paga festival, from the 16th to the 18th of January, 2017, in Seijosa on the outskirts of the Pakke Tiger Reserve. Named after the ‘paga’ or the hornbill, the festival was a celebration of conservation efforts in the region. India is home to nine hornbill species, five of which can be found in North-East India. The Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh offers sanctuary to four hornbill species, namely: the Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, and Oriental Pied Hornbill.
Though Pakke remains well protected under the leadership of the legendary Divisional Forest Officer Tana Tapi, the lowland forest areas surrounding the reserve have been subjected to extensive logging and hunting. These forests serve as crucial hornbill nesting sites, and recent protection measures extended by the Arunachal Pradesh forest department, the Nature Conservation Foundation and the Nyishi tribals have demonstrated the vital and impactful results of community conservation.
The Pakke Paga festival, therefore, celebrates the unity of the cultural and natural heritage of the state by commemorating the commendable role played by the Nyishi tribe in preserving the hornbills of Pakke.
Nandini Velho, a trained field biologist who won a Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award in 2015, has been working in Northeast India for the last 10 years. From being a ‘Policy Fellow’ at the Office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests under Jairam Ramesh to working with children in village schools around Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Nandini the new age wildlife dynamo, is currently studying the human dimensions of wildlife management around Pakke, where she had previously studied hornbills and hornbill seed dispersal patterns. She speaks to Sanctuary’s Anadya Singh about crucial issues concerning these iconic birds, their habitat and the conservation measures that need to be taken.
Photo: Jaya Rane.
Q. Keeping in mind the hornbill’s particular mating and nesting habits, how important is it that logging be controlled in and around hornbill habitats such as Pakke?
Logging outside Pakke is a significant threat to hornbills and other species that live in these forests. With a land use plan, settling of land rights, stewardship and enforcement it may be possible to control logging. However, one has to acknowledge that it would be a tough challenge given the well-oiled markets operated by powerful players.
Q. Can breeding hornbills in captivity be seen as an effective measure to combat dwindling hornbill numbers? Why/why not?
Captive breeding is an insurance policy to compensate for ongoing conservation efforts in the field when the stakes of extinction are very high, if at all needed.
The biology of frugivorous birds such as hornbills is complex. Further there is a lot of effort being put to conserve hornbills on the ground – captive breeding may take the focus and funds off of these efforts.
Q. Conservation efforts have always been focussed on government administered Protected Areas? What can be done to protect the forest tracts that lie outside these boundaries and are more prone to logging and hunting?
We are still in the stage of acknowledging that lots of amazing wildlife exists outside Protected Areas, so we have a long way to go. A consultative land use plan around protected areas is needed to rationalise multiple land use practices that exist, in a way that addresses the needs of people and wildlife. In states, such as Arunachal, there are multi-tiered village councils that have a wide reach and are very effective in local village level administration.
Conservation of such areas provides incredible opportunities not just to the forest department but also to the civil society to engage in and support wildlife conservation activities.
Q. From the long years that you spent in Northeast India, what has been your favorite hornbill experience?
When my father first came to Pakke, there was this time when we sat under a roost tree, quietly working away, the only interruptions were the seeds falling continuously on our heads. Initially, my father was quite apprehensive about me working in the field alone. However, over the years, with every retelling of this little hornbill experience, it has become not only mine, but my father’s favorite hornbill related moment as well. His apprehensions are long gone.