Rare wildlife thrives in community forests on the Indo-Myanmare border
Exaggerated reports of ’empty forest syndrome’ are common in parts of the northeast
India. However, indigenous residents of a village in the foothills of Mount Saramati have
work in collaboration with national organizations to research and protect wildlife in their community forest. Their investigations have found a multitude of rare and endangered wildlife in the forests of their own backyards.
A nebulous leopard boldly sniffs the camera, a mother bear mocks her adult cub, packs of dholes study the ground, and adult stub-tailed macaques groom each other while their little ones have fun. These are just a few glimpses into the hidden lives of the community forest dwellers of Thanamir village in the Kiphire district of Nagaland.
In recent years, some Thanamir residents have partnered with a Delhi-based NGO, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), to use automatic cameras to study the life of wild animals in their community forests. These “camera traps” have captured thousands of photos showing the rich fauna that inhabit the forests of Thanamir.
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Many of these animals are endangered globally. Like much of Nagaland, the people of Thanamir village own, use and manage their community forest. Located in the shadow of Mount Saramati (3,842 m), the highest peak in Nagaland, this region is the ancestral homeland of the Yimkhiung Naga. For several years, young people and local leaders have taken a keen interest in protecting their forests and their wildlife.
The village council and the students’ union have put in place various resolutions to combat over-hunting of wildlife and protect the forest. The research carried out aims to strengthen these management systems through an evidence-based approach. “For the past two years, our Thanamir village team has worked with WPSI to conduct research activities. Using camera trap surveys, we try to document the wildlife in our forest.
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We want to know how many different animals live here and what their populations look like. We were surprised by the abundance of wildlife and delighted to see that our forest is home to a rich biodiversity, ”said Jona Yimchunger and Rethsucham Yimchunger, residents of Thanamir and members of the project team.
Their investigations have documented more than 23 animal species, including the Indian muntjac,
stump-tailed macaque, asian wild dog, asian rear bear and the elusive clouded
leopard. Besides these, the Nagaland State bird, Blyth’s Tragopan was also
photography. “We are delighted with the results and with the collaboration and friendship we have received from the people of Thanamir,” said Belinda Wright, Executive Director of WPSI.
“Since the training, we have documented over 220 species of birds in our forest. We have been practicing for months with the help of external experts and now we feel confident to
independently carry out bird surveys ourselves. We want to study birds that migrate with the seasons. We have also started sharing our findings on global birding platforms like eBird, ”says Rethsuthong Yimchunger, an expert and
enthusiastic bird watcher.
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The project will also integrate socio-ecological data, which will be used by the local council and student union to co-develop plans that prioritize both wildlife populations and community well-being. WPSI researcher and project leader Ramya Nair says: “We want to understand the complex relationships people have with nature and approach them with sensitivity and respect.”
The community forests of Nagaland and northeast India are often rejected by the
scientists as “empty forests”. But research shows this account couldn’t be further from the truth. Across Nagaland, local communities are rallying to protect their forests, and wildlife is now bouncing back into previously barren and overhunted forests. There are currently over 400 community conservation areas across Nagaland – the highest of any state in the country. These efforts must be recognized, supported and appreciated.
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