R.K. Ranjan Singh
Yangoupopi-Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Chandel District along the Indo-Myanmar international boundary line crossing Boundary Pillars No. 16 to 22. It is a unique and vibrant Ecoregions, representing Indo-Malayan biodiversity. The geographical location of the sanctuary is at the confluence of two major species zones. It is one of the comfortable destinations of seasonal migration of elephants from Myanmar. The sanctuary is also a Home of Hoolock Gibbon, the only ape species found in India. The sanctuary is one of the avifauna species rich area in the region.
Yangoupopi-Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 190 Km2 and bounded by Wakshu Lok, the bridle path from Shibong Village to Leibi Village extending up to Dolaidung Village on the north, Lokchao River on the south and south-west while the international boundary line in between India and Myanmar demarcates in the East.
The physiographic landscape of the sanctuary has been dissected into steep slopes, flats and undulating hilly terrains drained by numbers of hill streams and gullies reflecting the general slope towards the eastern and south-eastern sides. Lokchao, Khujairok, Lairok, Namjet Lok, Namchumpha Lok and Wakshu are the main streams and tributaries watershed areas of the Yu River, a head stream tributary of the Chindwin River Sub-drainage basin of Burma. The altitudinal variation of the area ranges from 33 meters above mean sea level at the streams and the river beds while the foothills areas from 276 m and to 888 m (mean 399) at the highest elevated areas.
This sanctuary is generally facing with the Kyam Lamjao (Kabaw Valley) in Myanmar with warm climate during most part of the year. Summer months are hot and humid in comparison to other hilly districts of Manipur. The vegetation of the area is dominated with tropical moist deciduous forest type. Bamboos are found abundantly in pockets. The whole area of the Sanctuary is a part of the terrestrial Ecoregions of the Mizoram-Manipur-Kachin Rain Forests and recorded for the highest bird species richness of all Ecoregions that are within the regime of Indo-Pacific Region. This part of the Ecoregions represents the tropical moist deciduous forest type and at the crossroads bio-geographic region of the Indian, Indo-Malayan, Indo-Chinese biotas. Semi-evergreen forests of the area are characterized by several species of Dipterocarpaceae.
The area also serves as sensitive corridor zone for the south East Asian faunal species. The faunistic composition of this sanctuary indicated a mixture of species of the Indian mainland and those of the Malayan Archipelago of the South East Asian region along with numerous native animal species. It was also interesting to note that some of the Royal Elephants were caught and tamed mainly from this area only.
Merger with India & status of Yangoupopi-Lokchao area
Considering the significances of the Yangoupokpi-Lokchao area, it was declared as a reserve forest by the State Darbar of Manipur on 3rd April 1946 and approved by His Highness in April 1946. However, after the merger of Manipur to the Indian Union on 15th October, 1950, the Yangoupokpi-Lochao was re-declared as Wildlife Sanctuary only on the 21st of March, 1989. The whole area of this sanctuary has been classified into five zones, viz. Khudengthabi, Leibi, Laiching, Kwatha and Yangoupokpi. Currently it has been documented with the occurrence of 6 amphibian species, 29 species of reptiles, 74 species of avifauna, 42 mammalian species and 86 species of fishes in the sanctuary. This wildlife Sanctuary is the IV category of the IUCN classification of protected areas that overlap with the Ecoregions of the Mizoram-Manipur rain forests.
The rare and endangered cyprinid fish like val and mahseers are abundantly found. It is also reported that the Lokchao and its tributaries serves as the natural habitats particularly for breeding and spawning of endangered mahseers. Fresh water shark were coming up to the middle course of the Yangou stream a tributary of the Waksu stream in the area of the sanctuary from the Chindwin River of Myanmar. The long distance migratory eel and an estuary fish Xenontodon cancilla are also reported in the sanctuary.
The peacock marked turtle was found in the Lokchao River near the international boundary line. Pythons were found in the area. Sins are very common and frequently encountered near the stream banks and forested areas. They are locally known as shurit or sharit based on the sound come out of their fast movement passing through the dry leaves on the ground. Different species of reptile’s namely blind snake, Diard’s blind snake, buff striped keelback, Tawny cat snake, Himalayan Keelback, Keelback snake, White striped kukri snake, Manipur green snake, Indo-China Red snake, Checkered keelback, Banded krait, Monocellate cobra, King cobra, Monitor lizard and water lizard were recorded in the sanctuary.
The Yangoupokpi-Lokchao Wildlife sanctuary’s Ecoregions harbors 74 endemic and near-endemic bird species. Complementing the endemic bird species are four pheasant species, namely Blyth’s tragopan, grey peacock-pheasant, green peafowl, and Kalij pheasant, three hornbills viz great hornbill, weathered hornbill, and oriental pied-hornbill and Manipur bush-quail. Common birds namely Indian myna, Collared myna, Jungle myna, northern hill myna, Burmese pied myna, Gray headed myna, Spotted dove, Burmese red turtle dove, Burmese ring dove, Little brown dove, Tree pie, North Indian drongo, Striated swallow, Dusky crag martin, Assam bamboo partridge, Burmese red jungle fowl, Alexandrine parakeet, Rose ringed parakeet, Manipur crimson breasted pie wood pecker, Forest eagle owl, Burmese collared scoops owl, Burmese hoopoe, Lesser skylark, Roller were abundantly visible in the area. This Wildlife Sanctuary comes within Biome-9 (Indo-China Tropical Moist Forest). Nineteen bird species occur in this biome.
Since the sanctuary is located at the cross road of a significant corridor zone of the south East Asian species the following endangered mammal species were recorded, they are namely the Bat, two of the India’s rare primates: the stump-tailed macaque and the pig-tailed macaque. There are also several threatened species, including the red panda, Asian elephant, Clouded leopard, gaur, goral, great Indian civet, Assamese macaque, capped langur, hoolock gibbon, back-striped weasel, and smooth-coated otter. Some of the rare mammal species found in the area may also be mentioned here as follows: Malayan sun bear, Himalayan black bear, Chinese pangolin, Crab eating mongoose, Giant flying squirrel, Pemy’s long nosed squirrel, wild boar, etc. In addition, the sanctuary also harbours amphibian species such as common toad, tree frog, Indian bullfrog, etc.
Threat to the Sanctuary
Currently the wildlife sanctuary has been stressing from different directions. In the past the area was logged heavily for timber and collection of fuel woods and fodder collection. Till today the main cause of deforestation in the area is the continuation and expansion of shifting cultivation. Regular burning of trees and collection of charcoal are the main activities in the area. Currently there are more than seven hundred charcoal peats were actively running particularly in the Laiching area of the sanctuary. The expansion of Moreh Township with the advent of free trade with Myanmar and the ongoing activities of Look east Policy of the Nation are also threatening seriously to this sanctuary. Over and above the demand for wildlife and wildlife products from China market is a serious threat to this area also. Lack of enforcement encourages the degradation process in the area. Further the significance of this sanctuary will lost with the erection of international boundary wall across the eastern frontier of the sanctuary which is the main corridor of the faunal species.
Most dangerous threat to the Wildlife Sanctuary concerns sale of land of the sanctuary to the Assam Rifles (AR). In the month of June, 2013 a tragic news affecting the Yangoupokpi-Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary Land came to be known to the general public. Land area measuring 160 acres located near Kondong Lairembi Complex, Moreh was reportedly sold by an official of Revenue Department at Rs 60 lakhs to the Assam Rifles in a deceitful manner. It turned out to be a part of Yangoupokpi Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary and it was already declared a reserved forest by the State Government. AR authorities claimed that they bought the land with due approval of the Hills Department. They also produced official documents in support of their claim.
The area sold to AR without approval of the Government’s competent authority is recorded as a part of the Yangoupokpi Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary in the Protected Areas Network of Manipur published by the Forest Department. By selling a part of the wildlife sanctuary, both the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980 were violated. Over and above this, the shady land deal challenged a Supreme Court directive issued on March 28, 2008 that no part of reserved forest or Wildlife Sanctuary can be sold to any party without the approval of the Government.
So far no concerned authority has taken any tangible steps to restore the land or punish the culprit. For that matter, after declaring the area as one of the national wild sanctuaries no efforts are invested to improve the condition of it, when so many ill effects are being witnessed or when the environment of the sanctuary is degrading. It is our responsibility to preserve and conserve it for posterity.