Sangai in Manipur Society:
For reasons historical and social, closely associated
with the cultural life of the Manipuris, the Sangai has attached importance for Manipur
and its people. In fact, the Sangai assumes a significant symbol of precious heritage -
the natural and the material heritage - that in more than one ways identifies Manipur and
its people to the rest of the world community.
Culturally, the Sangai finds itself imbedded deep into the legends and folklore of the
Manipuris. Based on a popular folk legend, the Sangai is interpreted as the binding soul
between humans and the nature. The slaying of the Sangai, an unpardonable sin, is
conceived as the rude breaking up of the cordial relationship between humans and the
nature. When humans love and respect the Sangai, it is respecting nature. In the Sangai,
therefore, humans find a way of expressing their love for the nature. Socially, the Sangai
is the symbol of a prized possession of the State. Identified as one of the rarest animal
species in the entire world, the Sangai is the eye of the apple for the people. Talk of
Manipur, and one of the first things to introduce the State is the Sangai, other than
polo, its classical dance, sports and films.
In March 1999, the annual Sangai census recorded around 149 heads in the Keibul Lamjao
National Park, KLNP. This last natural habitat of the deer - covering a total of 40.5
sq.km with a core zone area of 15 sq.km, is peculiar by itself as it is mostly made up of
the floating biomass locally known as Phumdi. The KLNP forms part of the southern portion
of the greater Loktak lake, and so the park is within the water body area of the Loktak.
It is for this reason that the park has often been termed as the 'only floating national
park in the world'.
The Sangai faces a two-pronged danger to its life. Firstly, its habitat is steadily
degenerating by reason of continuous inundation and flooding by high water caused as the
result of artificial reservoir of the Loktak hydroelectric power project. Secondly,
poachers are out there to trap and slay the deer at the slightest opportunity. In February
1998 poachers trapped two Sangai doe inside the KLNP, killing both female.
In 1983 the 103 Megawatt capacity Loktak hydroelectric power project was commissioned with
the objective of ensuring rapid development in the State. One failure of the project has
been that it has never been able to provide regular power supply to the villages in the
Loktak lake periphery. And a very disturbing effect of the project has been its share of
harm to the ecology and the environment of the Loktak, threatening the lake ecosystem, the
humans and their lands, the wildlife, and all other life forms dependent on the lake for
A maximum high water level of 168.5 meter above MSL is maintained in the Loktak Lake to
feed the reservoir for the hydel project. At this level, much of the land on the periphery
of the lake had been submerged under water, rendering huge loss of productive agricultural
lands and localised fish culture farms. On the other hand, this high water level had
wreaked havoc in the KLNP. The high water level, maintained continuously through the year,
had disturbed the natural life cycle of the vegetation growth, the phumdi, upon which the
Sangai thrives. The deer feed on several types of vegetation that grow on the phumdi. The
vegetation also provides shelter to the deer and other wildlife in the park.
The life-cycle of the phumdi involves floating on the water surface during season of high
water as in the monsoons. In the lean season, when the water level reduces, the biomass
come into contact with the lake bed and they secure the required nutrient from there. When
the rains come again and they become afloat, the biomass have enough 'food' - the nutrient
- stored in their roots and their life continues. What is happening now, according to
local scientists who are studying the phenomena, is that with continuous high water in the
lake throughout the year much of this process of 'feeding' on the nutrient in the lakebed
had discontinued. The result - the biomass are losing weight and getting thinner by the
year. Around January last week in 1999, it was reported that a large chunk of the biomass
in the northern part of KLNP had broken up into pieces and had drifted freely from the
park area. This was a bad sign for the Sangai habitat. It spelt out very clearly that the
beginning of the end of the Sangai habitat had begun.
Very recently this year, reports came in about local people cutting up the phumdi into
sizeable pieces and then towing away these with dugout canoe for 'selling' to fish culture
owners. This is another potential danger to the Sangai habitat. It meant humans are now
aiding the process of annihilating the habitat area, supplementing to the rapid
degeneration of the habitat.
The Sangai - a jewel in the crown for
Manipur - is one of the most unfortunate animals living in the world today. Human activity
- read development process - had caused extensive damage to its last natural habitat,
threatening its very existence. Humans continue to hunt and slay the deer on the sly in
spite of legislation (Manipur Wildlife Protection Rules 1974) and public outcry. There is
no State sponsored conservation programme for securing the safety of the deer and its
habitat. Manipur is poised to lose this animal wealth, forever, if timely help do not come