Mithun or Gayal/Sial, as it is locally referred to, is a unique large cattle species found in the NorthEastern part of India including the hill forests of Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam, as well as across the border in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and China. A hybrid of the wild gaur and the domestic cattle, Mithun is domesticated for its many uses including nutritious milk and its ability to draw wagons. Often referred to as the “Cattle of the Mountain”, a once abundant species that is now facing severe threats primarily due to habitat loss and also because rearing is an extremely complex task. Today, Mithun is a ‘Threatened’ species as per the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) In a small village of Mizoram called Sailulak, an extraordinary task of saving the near-extinct Mithun was taken over by a few families. The village consisting of merely 206 families, formed the Sailulak Sial Vulh Association. They used their traditional knowledge for Mithun rearing which not only economically benefitted the community, but ultimately saved the Mithun from the brink of extinction. The traditional shifting cultivation practice of Jhum was also improvised to preserve the foraging grounds for the Mithun. This harmonized system resulted in the conservation of Mithun species with an increase in household income and at the same time, a decrease in the negative impacts of Jhum cultivation.

Need for the Initiative

It started with 5 families breeding and rearing Mithun which culminated in the establishment of Sailulak Sial Vulh Association. This association now has 46 families as a part of it. The Mithun rearing system was revived based on traditional practices thus preserving not only traditional knowledge but also the cultural system. Grazing grounds are fenced in quarters which ensure the rotation of pastures providing them enough time to rejuvenate while ensuring that pastures are available for foraging throughout the year. The conservation initiative is based on the traditional system that prioritised living in harmony with nature. It revives the organic relationship between Mithun rearing and Jhum cultivation, where it is believed that lands grazed by Mithuns is more suitable for Jhum cultivation and after harvest such lands provide for good foraging grounds for them. The community has also built vigilance/resting sheds and springs, thus bringing together both the traditional and modern systems to the best of their utilisation. Along with this, water conservation initiatives are also taken up for an integrated conservation strategy. The financial resources were initially provided by the local village council by Mizoram Rural Bank. Later an NGO supported them in providing expertise and training related to veterinary care, vaccination, and medicines. The Rural Development Department also helped them in constructing cattle sheds, watch houses, watering holes, and salt licks for free ranging Mithun. Biocene, an environmental NGO, also helps them with training. Other organisations such as BDO, RURBAN, FOCUS, DRDA also support them often. The association is working closely with the National Research Centre for Mithun, Nagaland for a semi domesticated modification to the process and also for the design and development of night shelters with food and water. The association also plans to build a water harvesting system that will support semi-intensive farming which they plan to start.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

The community has been able to raise the population of Mithun from almost negligible to 325 today. This is a successful example of community action using the traditional knowledge handed down to them by their ancestors for saving not only the Mithun population but also preserving their cultural practices of raising the animal. It has also led to economic prosperity in the village as the average annual income of members of the association has gone up from 4,000 to 400,000 INR today. This also led to successfully moving people away from Jhuming and prioritizing the conservation of commons. This is a great example of community action in preserving their natural flora and fauna along with living in peace and harmony with nature as was done by their ancestors. It is a wonderful example demonstrating community action to save a nearly extinct species using the traditional knowledge from their ancestors. The balance that the community has achieved between Jhum cultivation and restoring nature is commendable. Such initiatives should not only be replicated but also closely monitored and supported financially particularly in such geo-strategic locations such as Mizoram.

Recognition in india biodiversity awards-

SAILULAK SIAL VULH ASSOCIATION, MIZORAM Conservation of Domesticated Species (Institution) SPECIAL MENTION 2021