Narcondam Hornbill: “Heartening” increase
Aug. 10: A study on a globally endangered bird whose safety once prompted the defence ministry to scrap a surveillance set-up has called for stronger conservation efforts in its only home, an Andaman island, despite a “heartening” increase in numbers.
The study on the Narcondam Hornbill, found only on the Narcondam island in Andaman and Nicobar, has emphasised the need to “minimise” habitat disturbance.
The island has no human habitation, though it hosts a camp of 30-odd policemen for security reasons.
Divya Mudappa, a key member of the team that based its study on two visits to the island three years ago, said the population of the birds — 45-50cm long — could have gone up since an earlier study in 1998. “We have witnessed a heartening rate of density and the present population could be 400-plus, although this is not the final count,” Mudappa told The Telegraph from Mysore.
The earlier estimate put the number between 250 and 300.
“The density of Narcondam Hornbill estimated during the present short survey from the non-random trails surveyed is much higher than earlier reports,” the study says.
The study — An expedition to Narcondam: observations of marine and terrestrial fauna including the island-endemic hornbill — by T.R. Shankar Raman, Mudappa and eight other experts has appeared in the latest issue of the journal Current Science, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences.
Narcondam island — 135km from Barren Island, a volcanic island that has seen four eruptions since 1991 — had hit headlines last September when the Coast Guard proposed setting up a radar surveillance system.
It triggered protests from conservationists and experts, with A.R. Rahmani of the Bombay Natural History Society warning the Centre that the plan would affect the population of the hornbills first spotted by Allan Octavian Hume, civil servant-turned-amateur ornithologist and horticulturalist, in March 1873. The ministry of defence later scrapped the plan.
The new study stresses on the perils of such intrusions, which are bound to involve greater human presence on the island that already has a police outpost.
It says the police outpost of some 30-odd staff had already resulted in a loss of around 20 habitat areas of the endangered birds, “besides continuing disturbance through lopping of trees for firewood and invasion of alien plants”.
“We reiterate the need to minimise habitat disturbance and spread of invasive species with the cooperation of the police staff.”
The study says some of the policemen had even hunted the birds. An earlier study had suggested that personnel at the camp had shot eight hornbills with catapults and estimated that “at least 30-45 hornbills were thus killed annually”.
“There is a need for continuous engagement with the police camp, as long as it remains on the island, to create awareness on protection, avoid hunting, and reduce habitat disturbances,” the new study says.