Why the first Bird Sanctuary of the state in Thinungei village ??

R.K. Birjit Singh *

 Bird Sanctuary at Thinungei , Manipur
Bird Sanctuary at Thinungei , Manipur : as seen on 8th August 2018


Thinungei is an ancient floodplain fertile village of Manipur. It is located in the coordinate of 24054'.932" N latitude and 93076'.873" E longitude at an elevation of 771 m above mean sea level.

It spreads over an area of 4 by the side of Teddim Road in Bishnupur district flanked by the rolling blue mountains of Laimaton hill range in the western side where the sacred shrine of Ibudhou Sanamahi and the birth place of the great legendary healer Kabui Salang Maiba of Moirang Kangleirol are located amidst the vast green emerald valley and Loktak Lake, the mirror of Manipur sparkling like a blue diamond in the eastern side.

The village is associated with King Paikhomba, the legendary hero of Engallei, the enchanting daughter of Maram King (Khullakpa). Unable to bear the pain and sorrow of separation from her beloved and betrothed Paikhomba, Engallei transformed herself to Goddess of Langol hill through her deep romantic lament and devotion. On the other hand, King Paikhomba, the grandson of King Khagemba, the great conqueror of the Chinese bemoaned throughout his lifetime for his adored Engallei.

The village is being drained by a riotously meandering stream "Lam-kanbi" which keeps on changing its course and belief to be the personification of an elf with a natural brine spring stream, "Thum-khong-lok" in the south and "Khousalok" now known as Khujai-lok streams at the northern side.

In the ancient days, the village was primarily inhabited by Rongmei tribes along with the Meetei as brethren although Rongmei tribe is presently confined to Thingpui (Laimanai) village in Churachandpur district. The village was one of the key granaries of the kingdom of Manipur during the reign of Khagemba Maharaj.

The eastern side of the village, the only living shoreline of Loktak Lake known as "Thangjingkom" is one of the revered nine water bodies of Loktak Lake "Ishai Mapan" as referred in the ancient Moirang Kangleirol.

The elucidation and beliefs of the villagers regarding the name of the village was that on one occasion there was less rice crops in the granary of the palace and the king sent his men in horseback to find rice at the various state granaries located in different remote areas of Manipur.

The horsemen of the king in search of rice could not find any rice as most of the rice of the season was collected earlier by the Keirungpa, officer in charge of the state granaries responsible for collection and storing of rice crops from the imperial paddy fields (Ningthem-loukon).

In fact, King Paikhomba came to Thinungei village with his men in horseback to find and collect rice on Monday, the 10th of Lamda (13th February, 1696) and at last they found rice crops from the state granary of Thinungkei, that was how the name of the village was coined in another phonological change; Thinung = means, in yawning search of; gei or kei = granary or Tiger.

In ancient Meetei kingdom, the King's servant who looks after the state granary is referred as Tiger (Kei) to frightened people. By the time, people of Manipur were much frightened by Cholera epidemic and that of tiger menace.

King Paikhomba ordered his men and dug out a course of canoes in Thinungei to carry the Rice paddy to the palace through Loktak and Nambul. The era of Ningthem-loukon (imperial paddy field) come to an end in Thinungei when the earthen dam used to irrigate the Ningthem-loukon was breached by the strong water current which could not be stopped even after heavy thumping by the foot of elephant brought from the palace during the reign of Maharaj Chandrakiri. Still the area is known as "Ningthem Loukon".

Through the pace of time, the small village grew progressively in a pastoral manner with the ancient culture and rich traditions of the land and people of Manipur fusion with Vaishnavism like a cloth interwoven with the golden fabrics and silver threads.

The changing face of the world due to the geo-political conflicts did not left Thinungei alone in the almanac of the World War II. The stage was set, the battle lines were drawn in 1942 and the village suddenly found itself on the frontier between the Japanese in Burma and the British in India.

It turned into a massive battlefield in 1944 when the Imperial Japanese Army, together with Indian National Army (INA) units, launched Operation U Go, with its main objective of capturing Imphal, the capital city of Manipur.

The village was pounded heavily by the allied force due to the presence of Lt. Gen. Yanagida of Imperial Army of Japan which Slim recognized as one of the toughest divisions in Burma penetrates and based in three camps at Thinungei, Laimanai Kabui and Ninghtoukhong, the fulcrum of "The Battle of Imphal and Kohima".

 Swampy Grassland at Thinungei , Manipur
Swampy Grassland at Thinungei , Manipur : as seen on 8th August 2018

Why the first Bird Sanctuary of the state in Thinungei village ??

1. Only Thinungei village has living shorelines of Loktak Ramsar in the present time with various types of habitats including mudflats and swampy grassland which can attract an array of waterbirds including those of migratory and shorelines birds. There are no other such places around Loktak Lake.

2. The highest number of waterbird population and species diversity has been recorded from this area during the last decade of waterbird census in Loktak Lake.

3. Availabilities and support of huge varieties of aquatic food plants, eaten and most preferred by ducks and geese belonging to the family of anatidae such as Sago-Pondweed Potamogeton pectinatus locally known as 'Lairenchak', Wild rice - Oryza rufipogon (Wainuchara) etc.

4. The area is most preferred and ideal habitat destination for long distance flying migratory waterbirds wintering in Loktak such as Ruddy shelduck, Nganu-thangong(Tadorna ferruginea), Greylag goose, Lam Kanga (Anser anser), Bar-headed goose, Kangshel (Anser indicus) etc.

5. Key refuge for the threatened and vulnerable small birds of floating grassland habitats.

6. The area will be an important key site for fishes of Loktak Lake where it can find liberty of time, space and ideal habitat for breeding that had never been happened and will definitely increase fish population and their diversity in this Ramsar Site.

7. Its rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

8. It may be a very favorable and important part of the tourist circuit which may be formed with the sacred shrine of Ibudhou Sanamahi in the western mountain, Moirang, Sendra and Keibul Lamjao in the southern side.

9. Easily accessible for the tourists, conservationists and researchers as the proposed area is just nearby the Teddim Road.

10. The presence of devoted and strong groups of wildlife conservationists in the village.

11. Poverty and biodiversity degradation are two related significant challenges that the present century experiences. Ecotourism is a type of sustainable tourism which is considered to be a panacea for these two global concerns.

The underlying argument is that the financially poor people depend highly on biodiversity for their sustenance, and hence, conservation of biodiversity can only be successful if measures like ecotourism address poverty elimination appropriately.

Broadly speaking, it contributes to the conservation of protected areas by:
(a) generating revenues that can be used to sustainably manage protected areas,
(b) providing local employment, and (c) inculcating a sense of community ownership.

12. The interesting aspect of ecotourism is that it aims at conservation not only through economic development of the locals, but also through their socio-cultural empowerment. Since the overall quality of life of the host population is a combination of economic, social and cultural dimensions, ecotourism in order to be sustainable does not only need to be economically sustainable but it also has to be socially sustainable and culturally appropriate.

13. There is much hope for ecotourism in spite of the various loopholes in the realm of its implementation. Once there is a strong integration of conservation of natural resources and improvement in human well-being, ecotourism will undoubtedly be a successful policy. The policy drawbacks are thus to be addressed adequately by effective involvement of the local people, inculcating awareness about conservation, educating locals as well as tourists etc. to create a win-win scenario for both the local communities and natural resources.

14. Development of infrastructures such as road connectivity, electricity, potable water supply scheme, IB, tourism huts, health and sanitation and other social infrastructures.

15. Livelihood improvement of genuine poor fishermen who depends on fishing in Loktak Lake and to provide adequate space for fishing with modern fishing gears and gadgets.

16. Benefit of getting funds from abroad for local development and living standard of the people of the village.

17. Employment in the sanctuary as well as tour field guide, boatman and benefits from home stays of the network of ecotourism around the Lake and the sanctuary.

18. Product branding through Self Help Group (SHG) in the name of Thinungei Bird Sanctuary, an opportunity to develop handloom and handicrafts interwoven with cultural heritage of the village to show cast to the world.

19. Benefits accrued from Bird festivals, workshops, functions and stalls and exposure of budding researchers, scholars and children's to wildlife conservation.

20. The village which does not have any important and popular land marks for other people to know and visit will be in the national map of the few bird sanctuaries of the country and will come into light of the rest of the world.

 Foreign Visitors at Thinungei , Manipur
Foreign Visitors at Thinungei , Manipur : as seen on 8th November 2018

Then why there is a lot of hue and cry, protest from a certain sections of people?

1. The rights of fishing of the fishermen should be given in Loktak Lake as well as the right to live for other fellow species and waterbirds and stake holders in Loktak Lake as Loktak cannot be only for fishermen's.

2. The villagers of Thinungei have the same right as that of fisherman to grow, develop, and educate themselves to uplift their lifestyle through ecotourism and conservation of the rich biodiversity heritage of the Lake.

3. Encroaching illegally in the shoreline area of the core zone of the Lake in the name of fisherman in this Ramsar Site, a wetland International is a total gross violation of the National Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017 and Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act,2016.

4. Electrocuting fishes, poisoning and poaching of waterbird in the name of fisherman are against the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Environment Protect Act, 1986.

5. The area covered by the proposed sanctuary in Thinungei area is only 13.93 hectares in swampy area (Tumurakpa mamang to Makha leikai pukhri achouba. Total area at Thinungei Mamang Loktak area is 84.3 hectares. Total area encroached by individuals- 70.3 hectares. But these areas are part of Loktak Lake.

6. The Government of Manipur already notified the area as the first Bird Sanctuary of the state and the notification cannot be rolled back even by the cabinet as per the ruling of the Supreme Court. However genuine rights may be settled through negotiation on humanitarian grounds through the provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

What is the Govt. of Manipur doing now??

1. Is the Govt. of Manipur is under the political trap of the vested interests persons?

2. What is the State Wetland Authority, Loktak Development Authority and Environment Department is doing over the large area of encroachment made within and around the sanctuary in Loktak Lake?

3. Is the Collector appointed is discharging his duties within the time line and frame work of the Wildlife Protection Act,1972 ?

Governance does not mean a mere Government. It means framework of rules, institutions and established practices that sets limit and give incentives of the behaviour of individuals, organizations. Without strong governance the danger of conflicts could be a reality and that reality is what we are facing today. Law is what law does, if the law cannot be enforced and operates without reference to social goals; it becomes meaningless exercise in protection of vested interests.

* R.K. Birjit Singh wrote this article for
The author is Asst. Professor, State Coordinator, Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), Manipur.
Honorary Wildlife Warden, Bishnupur District and member, Manipur Biodiversity Board (MBB), Govt. of Manipur
The writer can be reached at bsningthemcha(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 12, 2019.

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