TODAY -

The Sangai

A CRY IN THE WILDERNESS

The Sangai - the endemic, rare and endangered Manipur Brow-antlered deer (Cervus eldi eldi Mclelland) - faces an uncertain fate today. The deer species, fending for itself in its last safe refuge in the wild at Keibul Lamjao, is caught in the phenomenal conflict between development and the natural environment. Humans, supposed to be the guardian angel of the Sangai, have been the very reason for the threat on the existence of this highly spoken of deer species.

Sangai: Brow-antlered deer           Sangai - Brow-Antlered Deer

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.

Present status:
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 their living.

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.

Conclusion:
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 now.

Courtesy : Salam Rajesh
Other articles by the same author...
| Khayang Lily | | Winter in Dzuko | About Mate | Kangla Impasse |

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