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Manipur’s Natural Heritage At Stake

Typologically more than 80 percent of the State of Manipur, covering a surface area of 22,327 sq km constitutes a series of mountain and hill ranges while a tectonic valley located centrally. The highest peak, Mount Iso, on the Barial ranges stand at 2,997 meters above mean sea level with its highest inter-mountain valley of Dzuko at 2,500 meters.The Barak valley including Jiri plain and the foothill areas of Kyam Tampak (Kabaw valley) represent the lowest elevated areas of the State at 25 to 30 meters above MSL.

In between the lowest elevated and the highest elevated areas of the State, a series of varied topographic distinctions are naturally exhibited in association with varied micro climatic conditions. As a result, the State is harboring a variety of endemic bio-diversity. And, it is said that the State is located in the tri-junction where the Himalayan and the Malyo archipelago species of flora and fauna area available in abundance.

Manipur forms part of a global bio-diversity hotspot (there are only 18 of such areas in the whole world and Manipur is one of the two in India). A wide variety of habitats exist in the State-ranging from low lying swamps and marshy lands to tropical wet-evergreen, semi-evergreen and a few moist deciduous forests in the lower hilly regions. Sub-tropical, broad leaf and pine clothe to savanna type grass lands are at the upper reaches of the mountain ranges.

About half of the area comprises of tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. Pine forests cover about sixth, and large stretches of bamboo forests cover about a fifth of the region. Abandoned jhum fields are also part of the forests of Manipur. In these different forest areas, different endemic bio-species, at least 100 species of mammals and over 400 species of avifaunal species, many of which are extremely rare and endangered, are found. Many of them are on the verge of extinction.

Geo-tectonically and naturally the valley of Manipur was endowed with a number of wetlands where the maximum number of endemic aquatic bio-diversities was exhibited. Among these, the Loktak Pat (lake) is known for its (recently documented) bio-species numbering 265 species of flora and 425 species of fauna (counting 249 vertebrates and 176 invertebrates).

These faunal species comprise of 116 avifaunal species including 21 species of waterfowl that are migratory; 64 fishes, 32 mammal and 6 amphibian species. Current reports say that more than 233 species of microphytes and 32 species of phytoplanktons are recorded as aquatic flora in the Loktak Lake. These are, of course, some of the records of the recent research and documentation activity. However, it is believed that a number of species and sub-species of flora and fauna of the Loktak may have already become extinct.

The Loktak Pat is a Ramsar Site (protected by an international convention) and was listed on March 23 in 1990 as a wetland of International significance. Towards the east and the southeast, three smaller lakes namely Ikop Pat, the Kharung Pat and the Pumlen Pat complete the wetland ecosystem of the Manipur valley.

In the first half of the 20th century, JC Higgins, a British civil servant, published a paper on the birth of Loktak Pat. He recorded the white fronted goose, Bronze-Capped or Falcated Teal, Baer’s Pochard, Scupduct, Golden Eye Duck, Common Shelduck and many others. It was in Loktak Pat where Higgins shot a male Pink-Headed Duck in 1932. The bird is now extinct. Between 1910 and 1931, as many as 56,846 ducks were shot by members of Manipur Club as game. Today, hardly 5000 to 12,000 heads of waterfowl are counted in Loktak Pat. (Ref Manipur Association for Science and Society, MASS-Warterfowl census record of 1996 to 2000).

The drastic decline or fluctuation in population of migratory birds and the extinction of some of the species show the degree of inhospitable ecosystem of Loktak Pat. This unfavorable ecosystem have also seriously affected the only habitat of the Sangai (the Manipur Brow-antlered deer, Cervus eldi eldi) at Keibul-Lamjao, covering less than 40 sq km. The Sangai habitat is the only floating National Park in the world and, perhaps, is the best known natural heritage and identity of Manipur.

The ways of the so-called developmental planning and power generation probably are not suited and friendly to wetland ecosystem of the State. Therefore, the rare, endangered and endemic bio-species in the State are under constant threats. It has been a shocking affair how the condition of the Loktak Pat and other adjoining wetland has deteriorated rapidly.

Environment conscious voluntary organization like the Manipur Science and Society (Imphal), Global Science Club (Khoijuman), Generation de New Image (Ningthoukhong), Environmental Social Information and Sangai Protection Forum (Kaibul), Nongmaikhong Youth Club etc. are spearheading the initiative for restoring the ideal ecosystem of the Loktak Pat and other wet lands.

The forest department had in the meantime, decided to introduce an additional home for the Sangai and a bird sanctuary in suitable areas of other wetland system in the valley. Such decision if, taken as early as in 1960s, could have saved many of the endemic species from becoming extinct.

It is encouraging that the State Forest Department had recently declared four more wildlife sanctuaries, namely the Bunning, the Zeilad Lake, the Jiri-Makru and the Kailam wild life sanctuaries. The State wildlife authority is further intended on declaring a Bird sanctuary and an additional home for the Sangai in the near future. There are many other area where endemic species of both floral and fauna are available.

To point some, one could mention the Siroi-Kasom range, the Dzuko valley, Angoching etc which need to be provided protection and dully preserved, with community participation. To make the younger generation aware of the prevailing situation, the State wildlife authority should take up steps to establish a Natural History Museum, a Bird Watching Center at Nongmaikhong area etc.

With the onset of a new millennium, the people would appreciate the State authority for laying foundation of the State’s first Botanical Garden at Khongampat, and the initiative of the Manipur Science and Technology Council for establishing of a National Institute of Bio-resources in the State. Such approaches are the need of the time. The people have to throw in their support to save our natural heritages. The task ahead is onerous and the State authority alone cannot check the threat to our rich natural heritage without the dedicated involvement of the masses.

*The article was by Dr RK Ranjan

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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