Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Our Feathered Friends are in Danger

-Gyati Tallo

A man from Delhi who visited Ziro told his friends, among other things, that in the vast area of mountains and hills covered with trees and grasses, he did not saw any bird on his way from Kimin to Ziro which is about three hours drive. He wondered if there were no birds in this part of the world.

“No wonder,” one Arunachalee student of Delhi University said. “Ours is a land of hunters. To expect of birds-even rats and snakes are not spared.”

The old folks of Yazali, Yachuli and Ziro, however, felt that the area is still quite rich in bird populations. Sight of birds in roadside and jhum or cultivated area depends on the different times of day and the different seasons of year. They also acknowledged having spotted almost all the bird species mentioned and illustrated in the Salim Ali’s ‘FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF THE EASTERN HIMALAYAS’ in the area, though not all of them have local names. They also agreed upon the fact that the numbers of various bird populations are dwindling due to hunting or may also be due to addition of more and more of forest land under cultivation area.

The bird populations, frequented in vicinity of cultivated area, are different species of pigeons, wagtails, kites, hawks, eagles, kingfishers, hoopoes, owls, hornbills, jungle fowls etc. A good number of migratory birds also visit this area. The birds such as heron, ducks, cranes and others used this area, especially the Ziro valley, as a stop over for their long journey from Siberia or Tibet to the plains of India and back. This author is told that some species of the migratory birds (also known as game birds) are conspicuously missing since last four – five years. “Now they seemed to have changed their path for the fear of hunters,” Said one bird lover.

Hunting is quite popular in the area, particularly in Ziro valley. Ring road in Ziro has served at least one purpose- easy access to otherwise undisturbed wooded forest some four years ago. Today one sees hunters roaming about here with improvised guns, round the clock, and hunting whatever they see on their way- deer, monkey, birds and so on. Birds being the most easily visible prey are the soft target.

In fact hunting is a popular sport of the people of Arunachal. Along with illiterate and uneducated villagers, government officials and public leaders with improvised guns have joined the race. Such a culprit has been booked and punished elsewhere in the world but the law enforcing agencies of the state are, to some extent, blind to such activities.

“What a rubbish!” said an old man from Hari village when this author told him that the killing of birds such as hoopoe, hornbill etc., which are the threatened species, is offence against the law. “If birds are not to be hunted and relished, what is it for?” He is an illiterate lot. He is not aware of what we were taught in our schools; that every living organism has their own role in an ecosystem.

In fact birds are benefactor of man in many ways. They exercise a very important role of biological control. The birds such as flycatcher, hoopoe, woodpecker and others (in fact most of the birds) control the population of insect pests by feeding on them. In their absence, these pests would multiply in numbers and cause havoc to our commercial trees and crops. We can imagine how devastating these pests could be from the fact that when locusts move on in swarms, extending many kilometres, devour anything of grasses and leaves that come their way. Some birds known as the birds of prey such as owl, hawk eagle etc., kill and devour thousands of field mice, rats, ground squirrel etc., which are menace to our agricultural crops. Besides, they are an important agent of seed dispersal and thus conserve the forest. The man did not plant those huge trees of the woods; it is the birds, wild animals and some natural agents that did it. The bird that feeds on fruits of the tree also engulfs their seeds which come out with their droppings in some distant places and sprout out into seedlings.

Needles to mention, birds enhance the natural beauties of the area.

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Moreover, in these days of eco-tourism, Arunachal Pradesh has huge potential to become its destination and bird watching and bird hunting (with cameras not with guns) are very much the part of the eco-tourists. Once we stop killing birds for our pleasure, restore their habitat and they are coming back in good numbers, we will be able to attract many such tourists, especially the foreign tourists, which will boost the tourism industry of the state.

Do we need to think twice before shouldering our responsibility? Let us save and protect our feathered friends. Hunting surely is an exciting sport. What a noble idea it would be to hunt birds and wild animals with cameras in place of guns!


  • Arif

    Very well written article. It is time to ponder to preserve our this gift of Nature. Though it is very hard to make elders in villages understand but this task should be taken up by the younger generation, We should ask our elders to leave at least few species to show our grand children. How tragic it if our children would go to some Zoos in other states to have a glimpde of Hornbill, the state bird of Arunachal.

  • gyati tallo

    As Arif has said it’s quite difficult to convince old villager about the wild life and their conservation. In context of Ziro, actually, they (old folks of village) are not the potential threat to wild life and for that matter to the birds. They hunts rather by primitive means like laying traps in the jungle or using gums (payu in Apatanis) obtained from certain plants. Now a days bows and arrows are also not used by them. Moreover, their activity or extent of killing birds and animals are limited by certain superstitious beliefs. It is believed that by killing too many birds or animals one brings misfortune or wrath of god on himself and his family. If one kills certain animals like tiger, leopard, some species of wild cats, lion, yak etc., their spirit will take revenge on him or his family. So if one kills such animal accidentally by traps laid by him or if he happens to hunt down one, he has to perform a costly ceremony called ROPI to ward off the spirit of the animal from taking revenge.

    The real threat are from the educated lots. They include government officials and respectable(?) public leaders. They hunt for fun. They hunt with sophisticated guns. Their activity is neither limited by law nor by superstitious belief. For them, it seems, conserving wild life for future is too meaningless in compare to pleasure they derived from hunting. One should not be surprised if he sees law enforcer on hunting spree in Ziro.

    My grand children, it appears, (as Arif has said) will go to Guwahati zoo to have a glimpse of hornbills, peasants, partridges, hill mynas and other.

  • Govind Singh

    Indeed a thought provoking article. Add to it the fact, the Arunachal is a notified Biodiversity Hotspot by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) - one only wonders what all species we may lose if something is not done urgently.

    P.S. Would be possible to get the email address/contact info of the student from DU mentioned in the article? Plz lemme kno here or at ..thnks!

  • AG

    @ Govind,

    Lemme check out with the author of this article if he has the contact info of the person mentioned in his article.

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