The potential of Keibul Lamjao National Park for inscription as World Natural Heritage Site
- Part 1 -

By Kh Hitler Singh *

Introduction : The World Heritage Committee is an Inter-Governmental Committee for protection of world’s cultural, mixed and natural Heritages, a subsidiary body of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation functioning from its Head Quarters, World Heritage Centre at Paris, France.

The First Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was held by THE GENERAL CONFERENCE of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation meeting in Paris from 17 October to 21 November 1972, at its seventeenth session. The Committee laid down “The Operational Guidelines” for implementation of World Heritage Convention.

The Operational Guidelines provide procedure for :
(a) The inscription of properties on the World Heritage List and List of World Heritage in Danger;
(b) The protection and conservation of World Heritage properties;
(c) The granting of International assistance under the World Heritage Fund; and (d) The mobilisation of national and international support in favour of the convention.

The Operational Guidelines are periodically reviewed to reflect the decisions of the World Heritage Committee. The key users of the Guidelines are :
(a) The States Parties to the world Heritage Convention.
(b) The Inter-Governmental Committee for the protection of the cultural and Natural Heritage of Outstanding Universal Value.
(c) The UNESCO World Heritage Centre.
(d) The Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee viz ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property), ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) and IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources); in short, the World Conservation Union.
(e) Site managers, stakeholders and partners in the protection of the World Heritage Properties.

Definition of World Natural Heritage : Under Article 2 of the World Heritage Convention, the following shall be considered as “Natural Heritage”
—natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;
- geological and physiographical formation and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;
- natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.

Any natural site having at least one criterion of the following Outstanding Universal Value is eligible for inscription as World Heritage site :
(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
(ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
(x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

World Heritage List : There are 890 properties all over the world inscripted as World Heritages. These include 689 cultural, 176 natural and 25 mixed properties in 148 countries. The prominent properties included from India are Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Sun Temple Konark as Cultural Heritage and Kaziranga National Park (Assam), Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan), Sunderban National Park (West Bengal) etc as Natural Heritage.

Tentative List : Properties considered fit for inscription in the World Heritage List are first put in the Tentative List then the World Heritage Centre verified the fitness of the properties through its advisory body like ICCROM, ICOMOS, IUCN etc. The prominent properties from North-East India included in the tentative list are Namdapha Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh) and Kangchenjunga Biosphere Reserve (Sikkim).

Keibul Lamjao National Park. Description of the Property : Located in the North Eastern Indian State of Manipur (Bio-geographical Zone 9 C) with geographical co-ordinates Longitude 93º 53' E to 93º 55' E and Latitude 24º27' N to 24º 31' N, in the south eastern corner of Loktak lake, an important Ramsar Wetland (designated on 23/03/90 with Ramsar Site No 463).

Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only remaining floating habitat of highly endangered deer species locally known as Sangai or Dancing Deer or Brow Antlered Deer of Manipur. IUCN has recognised this deer species as Rucervus eldii eldii from 2008 onward. Previously it was known as Cervus eldi eldi Mc Clelland. The total park area is 40 sq km consisting of small islet hillocks, high land mass, floating biomass known as phumdi, water area and swamps.

This park supports about 180 Sangai deer (Rucervus eldii eldii) and almost an equal number of Hog deer (Axis porcinus) as per 2003 census by the Forest Department, Manipur. The other biodiversity found in the Park are 22 species of mammals such as Wild boar (Sus scrofa), Common Otter (Luthra luthra), Indian Civet cat (Viverriculata indica) and 25 species of reptiles such as Fresh water Turtles, Viper, Krait, Cobra, Python etc.

The Park harbours important migratory birds such as Baer’s Pochard (Athya baeri), Maldarin Duck (Aix galericulata), Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus), Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferrguinea), Shoveller (Anas strepera); Gadwall (Astrepera streperal), Little Grebe (Tachybaotus rificollis), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), Pochard (Athya ferina), Baikal Teal (Anas Formosa), Little Cormorants (Phalacrocorax niger) etc. The total avian-fauna both resident and migratory found in the Park is more than 150 species.

There are many indigenous fish species such as Anabus testudineus, Channa striatus, Monoterus album etc. The flora consists of 145 identified plants. The important plant species are Zizania latifolia, Saccharum munja, S, bengalensis, Phragmitis karka, Cynodon dactylon Heydihium ronarium, Alipinia galanga Arundo donax, Erianthus arundinaceus, Erianthus procerus etc.

There has been considerable decline in poaching of the Sangai Deer but there is considerable impending danger in the habitat of this species due to change in the hydrological regime. The Loktak lake was included in the Montreux record on 16/06/93. The habitat in the Park is deteriorating primarily because of the change in water regime due to construction of Ithai barrage (Shamungou 1998).

The phumdi, which used to settle during lean season and get replenished with soil and nourishment, are now continuously floating resulting in their thinning. Consequently, they are increasingly becoming defunct in supporting the weight of the deer. Besides, the release of water from the Ithai barrage causes drifting of phumdi towards north (Singsit 2003). This reduces the availability of phumdi to the Sangai.

However, it is worthwhile to note that the Sangai is not entirely dependent upon the phumdi for their survival. In fact the ideal home of Sangai would be a combination of the phumdi, the hard ground pastures and the shallow water bodies (Panwar 1979). However, such habitat in the Park is very rare now. Besides, frequent fire in the Park and controlled burning as a management strategy reduce building materials for phumdi leading to its thinning.

Statements of Authenticity and integrity : The protection, management, authenticity and integrity of properties are also important considerations for inscription of a property as World Heritage Site besides the Outstanding Universal Value.

Keibul region was declared protected Sanctuary and Sangai (Rucervus eldii eldii) as a protected animal vide Manipur Gazette, Dated February 2, 1955. Again vide Manipur Gazette, No.55/10/65-M(pt), Dated the 25th November, 1965 the Keibul region was given higher degree of protection by declaring the areas as Protected Forest.

In 1974 the areas was again declared as Reserved Forest vide Manipur Gazette No 60/10/72-For, Dated the 20th November, 1974. The same areas was well defined in boundaries, many objections from the local peoples were rejected and declared as Keibul Lamjao National Park under Sub-section (1) of Section 35 of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (Act No. 53 of 1972) vide Government of Manipur Notification No. 60/20/75-For Dated March 28 , 1977.

*** This article is based on my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the policy or understanding of the department or the Government.

To be continued....

* Kh Hitler Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express. This article was webcasted on June 27 2010.

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