R.K. Ranjan Singh
Prior to the 1891 Sangai was protected by a Royal decree. After 1891, when the Princely Kingdom of Manipur was under the British, the protection of the Sangai was relaxed and people started hunting. In 1934 the Manipur State Darbar banned the shooting of Sangai as the species was on the verge of extinction. Sangai was in fact at one stage considered to be extinct but in 1953 a small herd was discovered in Keibul Lamjao. Subsequently, the Government of Manipur prohibited hunting and poaching of Sangai at Loktak Lake. This led to the creation of a sanctuary covering an area of 50 Km2. In the year 1965 the area came under Protected Forest. In 1974, the area was declared as a Reserved Forest. Finally the Keibul Lamjao National Park was created in 1977 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 with an area of 40 Km2.
The Park is situated in the southeastern corner of Loktak Lake. Villages namely Komlakhong, Arong, Tera and Khordak lie to the east of the Park; Sagram, Keibul and Chingmei villages to the west; Thanga lies to north and Nongmaikhong, Ithai Wapokpi lie to the south. The topographic features of the park is characterized by floating Phumdi, an entangled mass of reeds and weeds, three small hillocks viz. Chingjao, Pabotching and Toyaching stand inside the park and three elevated grounds namely Thangbrel-Yangbi, Bogra yangbi and Hangamhoubi Yangbi etc are located inside the park. Considering the existing landscape , the park may broadly be classified into three ecological units namely the Phumdi unit covering the central, western and southern areas of the park, the Terrestrials unit consisting of three hillocks viz. Toyaching, Pabotching and Chingjao and the Aquatic unit covering deep water area in northern sides without Phumdi.
The natural hydrological cycle of the Keibul Lamjao is directly controlled by the hydrological regime of Loktak Lake. During the monsoon the water level of the Loktak rise up to a certain level and subsequently large area of Phumdi has been lifted and maintain the buoyancy. Similarly during the lean season the lake water level receded then Phumdies were settling down to the lake bottom and allowing them to absorb the required nutrient. During the process a small stream call Ungamel originated from Keibul Hillock, playing an active role in draining the excess water from the Keibul Lamjao National Park.
Corresponding to the existing natural hydrological cycle, eco-landscaping, soil along with the normal climatic conditions, prevailing in the area, varieties of vegetation and its composition are made available in the Keibul Lamjao. Floristic composition of wildlife habitat and its dynamics plays a critically significant role in the park to maintain uniqueness by providing food, shelter, breeding, playing field of the Sangai. Forests in the hillocks may be categorized as East Himalayan moist deciduous one. Vegetation coverage of Phumdies is entirely different from the coverage on hillocks and lake areas.
Sangai and Keibul Lamjao Park:
Sangai was once found in a wide area in Manipur. In the state, Sangai has not only been persecuted by hunters but also has all along been progressively deprived of its habitat by the onslaught of reclamation of land with the continuous growth of population. Granting that it is a mammal, excellently adapted in the swampy area, however, they use the terrestrials’ pastures during the dry season. Sangai is now confined only in the Keibul Lamjao area. An ideal home range for the Sangai would be a combination of the Phumdies, the hard ground pasture and the shallow lake waters.
Three small hillocks viz. Chingjao and Pabot in the north and the Toya in the south of the park and three thin strips of ridges (Thangbrel yangbi, Bogra yangbi and Hangamhaubi yangbi) in the middle of the park are free from inundation. Phumdi that remain settled on the bottom of the lake throughout the dry season, do not come afloat during the early floods. They take time to soak and sober or loosen their rootlets locked with the soil in the lake-bottom. Thus, for a considerable time during the early floods, the only resort for all the terrestrial mammals are the aforesaid three hillocks and the three thin strips of land. Further until the Phumdis come afloat, the fodder is provided by these hillocks and land strips. From this point of view of both food and shelter it is the pinch period for the Sangai and in fact for all the terrestrial herbivores. Obviously this combination of habitats eco-system was very much ideal in the distance past of the Manipur Valley.
Threats to Sangai
The endless reclamation and encroachment activities over the wetlands in combination with the degradation of catchment/watershed areas of the Loktak bound drainages and the Manipur river system; thus, the habitat areas of Sangai have been continuously disturbed. The progressive decimation of the habitat and relentless poaching by certain groups of communities are responsible for the liquidation of Sangai.
Keibul Lamjao has been alarmingly degraded after the commission of the Loktak Hydro Electric Project. The natural eco-system of the Loktak Lake and more specifically of the National Park has been irreparably altered and damaged. The construction of the Ithai Barrage across the Manipur River, affecting the normal behaviors of the river resulting shallower and shallower of the river beds of the upper stream. Subsequently, the Khordak Channel allows only inflow of debris water towards the Loktak Lake. This process has further been accelerated by the excessive deforestation in the catchment areas causing heavy siltation in to the lake. More than 4.4 lakh c.u.m. of silt sediment is being brought into the Loktak every year.
A large volume of silt particles and domestic sewage from Imphal Town is carried by the Nambul River which finally discharges into the lake. Other chemicals used in the peripheral agricultural fields are also washed off into the lake. The other factors threatening the lake are encroachments in the lake by making different fish ponds, construction of surface road across the lake and settlements which has gradually led to the shrinkage of the Loktak area. This is also one of the most menacing threats to the Loktak eco-system. On the other hand, the natural flow of the Ungamel channel has been completely altered to the opposite direction i.e. towards Keibul with huge sediment.
Since the commission of Ithai Barrage in 1983 the water level of the Loktak has been constantly maintained at 769 meters. As a result, the Phumdies always remain floating beyond season. Because of such development projects Phumdies are losing their natural cycle. Subsequently, the Phumdies are becoming thinner (below the normal/desired level of thickness).
There were many reports of unnatural deaths of Sangais. As we know, the Sangais are natural dancers, their play ground; the Phumdies as such has become a threat to their life and a cause to the extinction of the species. Because of Phumdies becoming thinner accidental deaths of Sangais was reported. Sangais are trapped into the Phumdies as the Phumdies lost the natural buoyancy to support the body weight of the Sangai. As such some of the Sangais are drowned to death. Therefore the ecosystem of Keibul Lamjao as a natural home for the Sangai has been drastically degraded. This may be one of the factors which may lead the National Park at peril.
Thus, observing the overall condition of the Park it shows that there is no appropriate policy for conservation and management of the park. At the same time taking the undue advantages of the law and order situations in the State some unlawful and illegal activists are freely accessible insight the park. To flush out such element from the park very recently Operation Summer Storm was conducted (April 11 to 21, 2009) by the para-military forces and reported that more than 60 percent of the Phumdi areas were burnt. This kind of activities might have caused another dimension of threat to the very existence of the Sangai are yet to be found.
Keibul Lamjao provides a unique eco-space for the natural habitat of the Sangai. It is also well recognized as the only floating park of the dancing deer in the world. Although, such a rare and endangered floating park of Sangai is located at Keibul Lamjao of Manipur, it is the heritage for all the population of the World. Hence the people of Manipur and the Government should make an effort for sharing the significant task of eco-restoration and long term conservation of the Sangai and the Keibul Lamjao. However, there are many shortfalls on the part of the concerned department and also acceptability of peoples’ participation on the issues of the conservation and protection of the National Park. There should be a National Policy for conservation of Sangai and its only habitat, the Keibul Lamjao. Sangai Vision 2020 must be planned to undertake short term and immediate necessary steps for eco-restoration programme of the Sangai and its natural habitat. Lastly, the Keibul Lamjao National Park should be elevated to the status of World Heritage Site. This is needed on account of mounting challenges for protection and conservation of the lone surviving specie of Sangai.
(The author can be reached at <[email protected]>)