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Nagaland struggles to save state bird
- Forest fire and hunting affect the beautiful Blyth’s tragopan population in the area

Kohima, July 4: The orange-breasted speckled bird that intrigued ornithologists and inspired Nagaland enough to make it the state bird is dwindling in number, with a mere 2,500 being sighted in the world.

Blyth’s tragopan, found in Bhutan, north Myanmar, southeast Tibet and China, also flocks to the evergreen oak and rhododendron forests of the region.

In Nagaland, it is sighted in mount Japfu and Dzukou valley of Kohima, Satoi range in Zunheboto district and Pfutsero in Phek district.

What intrigues ornithologists is that it flies to higher altitudes than most birds, touching 1,800-to 9,000 metres.

Random destruction of forest and hunting, however, have affected the tragopan population.

According to the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary Trust, Dzukou valley was the natural habitat of more than 1,000 tragopans.

In January, campers in Dzukou valley accidentally set fire to the tragopan habitat.

A larger fire in January 2006 destroyed over 72 square km of forest.

So devastating was the blaze that villagers and youths of the southern Angami areas, Assam Rifles, Police, Fire Service and other state agencies had to struggle for a week to douse the fire.

There are no surveys, academic research or government wildlife data to determine the exact number of tragopans in Nagaland, but the bird is regularly hunted for its flesh and plume.

A pair of tragopans is priced between Rs 15,000 and Rs 20,000 in the black market.

The chief wildlife warden of Nagaland forest department, K.S. Shashidhar, said considering the land-holding pattern in the state, the community has a major role to play in the management of biodiversity and conservation.

“The forest department has joined hands with the community for protection and conservation of the species,” he said.

In 1998, a village council passed strictures to regulate hunting in 70 square km of forest near Khonoma.

The council also banned the sale of wild meat.

Violators were fined Rs 3,000. Later, hunting was completely banned in 2000, even though some still violate the order.

Adjoining villages like Mezoma and Jotsoma where tragopans are found have also banned hunting.

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