TODAY -

Survival of Sangai - Threats and Concerns

Maibam Dhanaraj Meitei *

Sangai : The endemic, rare and endangered Manipur Brow-antlered deer  in February 2009
Sangai : The endemic, rare and endangered Manipur Brow-antlered deer



Rucervus eldii eldii McClelland (Brow-antlered deer or Sangai) of Manipur is one of the subspecies of Elds deer in the world, restricted to South-East Asia. Sangai is placed as "Endangered" in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list Category and protected under Schedule I of Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972), because of its restricted small population undergoing a rapid decline owing to habitat destruction and poaching in its natural habitat, Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP).

Sangai is adapted to the floating habitat of KLNP and evolved characteristics features such as divided hooves and elongated pasterns, allowing the animals to walk conveniently over the quaking surface. Floating KLNP is situated in the southern part of Loktak lake (93°53'-93°60' E, 24°14'-24°26' N), the largest freshwater lake in North-East India.

It covers an area of 40 km2. Elevated level of KLNP is 764-769 m above mean sea level with an average water depth of 3m. KLNP consists of phoomdi, hills emerging as islands and elevated land strips. Phoomdi is a heterogenous mass of soil, vegetation and organic matter in different stages of decay, floating over the free water.

Sangai was reported to be extinct in 1951, but in 1953 the species was rediscovered in a small pocket on the phoomdi of Keibul Lamjao during a survey conducted by IUCN. It resulted into declaration of 52 km2 of Keibul Lamjao as a wildlife sanctuary in 1954 by Government of India. Later on, 40 km2 was announced as a National Park in 1977.

Since then conservation measures of the Government have yielded satisfying results, with population of Sangai increased from 14 in 1974, 76 in 1986, 106 in 1991 and 162 in 2000. In addition, KLNP provides habitat to 81 sp. of birds, 22 sp. of reptiles and 22 sp. of mammals.

However, population pressure on the park area is inevitable. Construction of Ithai barrage for generation of power (Loktak Multi-Purpose project - 1983) has severely affected the hydrological regime of KLNP. Maintenance of a high water level (768 m) throughout the year preventing phoomdi to settle at the lake bottom has led to the decrease in phoomdi thickness.

It seriously affects the habitat of Sangai, as thin patches of phoomdi can no longer carry the weight of the deer and starts sinking as the deer steps on it. There is a possible fear of Sangai drowning in the rainy season as the water level rises up. Enchroachment by locals for fishing, collection of wild edible, fuel, house building materials and fodder from phoomdi creates human-deer conflict.

Sangai faces a strict competition with domestic cattles and buffaloes for fodder, creating a panic situation for overgrazing of phoomdi and spread of communicable diseases from the domestic animals. Due to the absence of a proper fencing system around KLNP, poachers find an easy way inside the park to hunt the deer. Villagers often venture inside KLNP illegally disturbing the habitat and in turn poaching results if they happen to come across the deer.

Numbers of Sangai have been poached for flesh consumption in households and trade illegally. Although, the park has got the status of a national park, infrastructure development and maintenance of the park doesn’t meet the required level upto now.

Protection of Sangai and in time conservation of its only natural habitat, floating KLNP is the need of the hour. Conservation and management of KLNP eventually involve protection of wildlife, improvement of the park grassland habitat (check on the decreasing thickness of phoomdi) and reducing pressure from locals by providing adequate income generation means to locals.

Demarcation and proper fencing of KLNP will help in the control of poachers and accidental escape of the deer. Spread of public awareness regarding the status, aesthetic, cultural and scientific values of Sangai need to be implemented.

Implementation of substantial and long term conservation measures along with infrastructure development and proper maintenance of KLNP is needed to protect the remaining population of the endangered deer (Rucervus eldii eldii), so the species doesn’t go into the extinct category of IUCN.


*Maibam Dhanaraj Meitei wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer may be contacted at rajjhcu[AT]yahoo[IN]in
This article was posted on March 28, 2014.


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