Practices & Solutions

Collective Initiative for Conservation of the Great Hornbill by Nature Conservation Foundation and the Ghora-Aabhe Society, Arunachal Pradesh

Background

Arunachal Pradesh, in North-East India, lies in the Eastern Himalaya Endemic Bird Area, with a rich and diverse avifauna. It is also home to the large frugivorous bird, the Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), found in the Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR), in the Pakke Kessang district of the state. The Reserved Forests (RF) outside PTR (including Papum and Doimara Reserve Forests) comprising over 1,000 sq.km provides a suitable habitat for the Great Hornbills and three sympatric species of hornbill- (Wreathed hornbill Rhyticeros undulatus, Oriental Pied hornbill Anthracoceros albirostris and the Rufous-necked hornbill Aceros nipalensis. The most prominent feature of the Great Hornbill is its bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. Its impressive size and colour have made it important in many tribal cultures and rituals. It is also the State Bird of Arunachal Pradesh., also inhabit the region.


Need for the Initiative

Members of Nyishi, the dominant tribe in Pakke, traditionally wear headgear called ‘Podums’ (A. Rao, 2012), which are topped with the upper beak and casque of the Great Hornbill. The hunting of the bird for ornamental use of its vital parts and meat, coupled with loss of habitat due to forest degradation, led to a sharp decline in its population in and around PTR. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed it as ‘Vulnerable’, with a decreasing population trend. In 2003, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a wildlife conservation and research NGO in Karnataka, started a nest and roost monitoring program in the area and found that the nesting trees outside PTR were usually abandoned by hornbills due to human disturbances. An interview-based survey across Arunachal Pradesh indicated that the species had been lost from 5 out of 16 sites in recent decades.


Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

NCF initiated the Hornbill Nest Adoption Program (HNAP) in 2011, in partnership with the Ghora-Aabhe Society (a council of village headmen in the Nyishi tribe) and Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department, in order to conserve the hornbills. In 2017, another partner, the Pakke Paga Hornbill Festival committee also became part of this initiative. The initiative involves both local and urban communities, wherein the local community contributes by protecting hornbill’s nests and its habitat and the urban citizens contribute by offering financial support. Thus, the hornbill chicks end up with three sets of parents; the biological parents, local guardians and adoptive parents. This programme was inspired by Dr Pilai Poonswad’s initiative in Thailand. As of 2019, there are 11 Nyishi community representatives from 8 villages engaged in protecting hornbill nests and roosts. They are paid a salary and are provided with training and field equipment. These erstwhile hunters of hornbills now use their traditional knowledge for locating new nests and monitoring them through the breeding season, until the baby birds fledge successfully. NCF has also trained the nest protectors for recording breeding behaviour in order to enhance the research base. The habitat is protected from forest fires and strictly monitored for hunting and logging activities, which are immediately reported to the forest authorities. The Nyishi youth are provided with training to serve as nature guides and infrastructure for homestays is being developed in order to boost ecotourism. Community welfare activities such as providing blackboards for local schools, construction of public toilets in health centers, etc, have also been carried out as a part of the initiative.

The forests around PTR have been heavily degraded in the past. Therefore, as a part of a forest restoration project, a nursery across 0.4 acres was established outside of the protected area in 2014, that has raised around 25,000 saplings of 72 native tree species (up to 2019). Saplings of species which form a part of hornbill diet, were planted around the hornbill nest trees in the Papum Reserve Forest. Additionally, saplings have been planted in the degraded patches within the PTR (4.11 ha), and the Doimara reserve forest area (1.36 ha), which acts as an elephant corridor. This site is maintained with the support from the state forest department. Furthermore, 1436 saplings have been distributed to the Forest Department, local NGOs, army and district administration, to support the tree plantation drives in areas adjoining PTR. 4360 saplings of economically important tree species have been provided to members of the community, for planting in their farmlands and home gardens, to curtail their dependence on Forests. Approximately 6.01 ha of nearby tea estates/farmland in Assam have also been earmarked for restoration. Restoring degraded forests will eventually contribute to increased forest cover and greater levels of carbon sequestration. It is a long-term process that will help restore the diversity of native tree species, which would contribute to provisional and regulatory ecosystem services.

Since the commencement of the conservation initiative, the team has located several new nests every year with an 80 percent successful nesting rate. They have monitored and protected approximately 40 hornbill nests and helped 138 hornbill chicks of three hornbill species fledge successfully (2012-2019).


Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards

Nature Conservation Foundation, won the India Biodiversity Awards (IBA) under the category ‘Conservation of Threatened Species’ in2016.

Veena Rai

Email: veenarai@ncf-india.org

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