The dwindling population of Blyth’s Tragopan, the state bird of Nagaland, has been calling for conservation and sustainable use of forest resources. This magnificent bird is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Khonoma village is located about 20 kilometres away from the capital, Kohima and is known for its rich biodiversity. It houses 21 restricted-range species, thereby earning the distinction of being a part of the Eastern Himalayas Endemic Bird Area (EBA). For the Angami tribe, the inhabitants of Khonoma village, hunting had been a sacred cultural practice. However, when the very existence of Tragopan in the village became a matter of question, an incredible change took shape. The centuries’ old hunting practice was put to stop by the tribe elders and community leaders by sensitising the hunters. This timely and active intervention of the community laid the road for the conservation of the bird species. Consistent efforts, able leadership, visionary thoughts of the village council and the community leaders to involve local people in the conservation initiative through perseverance and grit, led to the demarcation of 20 square kilometres of Khonoma Forest as Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS). It has since spread over 123 square kilometres including the Community Conserved Area (CCA). KNCTS also has the distinction of being the first-ever community-led conservation project in India. Nearly after a decade of exemplary conservation efforts, the village has been recognised as the ‘First Green Village in India’

Need for the Initiative

The village elders realising the fallout of the unsustainable community practices initiated the process of restoring the forest ecosystem in the early 1990s. It involved communicating the longterm gains of conservation, whereby experts were invited to impart conservation values to the village community at large and the involvement of the State Forest Department. The elders also campaigned to ban specific activities, notably hunting of Blyth’s Tragopan, which is a key indicator of habitat condition. Remarkably, the enforceable bans were not limited to hunting and felling, but also jhum cultivation. The incorporation of these actions led to the restoration of the natural forest, which earlier was highly degraded and fragmented. Strong decentralised management, starting with the Village Council and subsequently the Biodiversity Management Committee helped initiate sustainable practices that are being continued. It included harvesting for NTFP (Non-Timber Forest Produce) such as wild edible fruits at a sustainable level and preventing their commercialisation. Further, fishing using chemicals and batteries that have a detrimental effect on the habitat have also been banned in the stream of the CCA.

Conservation Initiatives and Impacts

The project has significant impacts on India’s endeavour to conserve its biodiversity and the upcoming post 2020 global framework. It is also related to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and India’s NBT (National Biodiversity Targets) which is aligned with the previous Aichi Targets. For instance, the notification and subsequent increase in the overall area contributed to NBT 6, SDG 15.2 and Goal A of the post 2020 framework. This calls for effective equitable conservation of ecologically representative areas of the country. The thrust on alder-based paddy cum cultivation has contributed to increasing the resilience of the agricultural land which earlier followed jhum cultivation that was damaging to the overall health of the land. This action serves the twin purpose of meeting to an extent, the targets under NBT 3, NBT 5, NBT 11 and correspondingly SDGs 3, 12.2, 2.4 and 11. The Angami elders’ timely initiative of raising awareness among the village youths and community members concerning the preservation of Blyth’s Tragopan directly contributed to NBT 1 and SDG 15 and 17. It is also notable that the institutions involved in managing KWST have mainstream biodiversity conservation in their activities which corresponds to NBT 1 and SDGs 11, 12, 13, 16. Moving forward, the collective action of Khonoma village lays down a base for ensuring that by 2050, the shared vision of “living in harmony in nature” is on the road to fulfilment.
• The restoration process initiated by the elders and continued subsequently by the younger generation showed an increase in the bird sightings, most notably, 300 Tragopan birds and other vulnerable species such as Asiatic black bear.
• It also promoted ecotourism in the form of homestays and local youths’ involvement in specific activities. Some of the prominent homestays include Hill View Homestay and Megoki that have provided a source of alternative livelihood for Khonoma’s village. More specifically, the bird enthusiasts’ beeline for the KNCTS due to increasing sightings was an opportunity for the local youths in their role as nature guides and birders.

Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards