Meghalaya state bird faces extinction - hill mynah

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By SWATHI DIWAKAR in Shilong
  • Published 16.11.06
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Shillong, Nov. 16: The hill mynah (Gracula religiosa) has been amusing the world with its powers of mimicry, but is powerless to express the degree of threat that it currently faces. An increasing demand for these birds as domestic pets is posing a threat to its very existence.

Meghalaya’s official state bird, which is placed under the endangered species category, is accorded the highest degree of protection in India under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) also prohibits sale and purchase of products made from these birds.

Hill mynahs are known for their ability to mimic various sounds and also play an important role in the regeneration of forests since they drop seeds of fruits after eating them. These birds, with an average life span of about eight years, fetch a price as high as Rs 15, 000 per pair in the black market.

Prof. P.K. Saikia of Gauhati University, an expert in ecology and wildlife biology, pointed out that the mynah, which used to be seen both in the plains and hills, is now found only in deep forests. This is mainly due to deforestation and increased trapping of these birds to keep as pets.

The state government has allegedly washed its hands of the issue after according official status to the bird and does hardly anything for its protection.

Moreover, a paucity of funds which are meant to be used for the bird’s protection heightens the problem.

According to sources, the state government receives about Rs 40 lakh annually from the Centre for the protection and preservation of wildlife.

Chattisgarh, which also recognises the hill mynah as its state bird, had spent more than Rs 4 lakh last year from its budget for the bird, which they call the Bastar mynah. In addition, the Chhatisgarh forest department has sent proposals to the Zoological Survey of India for a project regarding the breeding and conservation of this bird, which is estimated to cost nearly Rs 50 lakh.

The government, which advertises Meghalaya as the ideal destination for tourists by claiming richness of biodiversity, flora and fauna, has failed to realise the threat to its natural assets.

“There is no specific fund allotted for this bird,” admitted Meghalaya’s chief conservator of forests V.K. Nautiyal.

Though Indian law pronounces stringent punishment for those who harm, kill or sell endangered species, the law is yet to be properly implemented.

There should be a fund of at least Rs 1 crore for effective protection and management, said a senior official from the forest department.

Moreover, no census has been undertaken so far to determine the population of the birds by the state or Centre.

According to Saikia, scientists generally use the index method, in which density of birds in a particular area is noted, to calculate the population. Declined density indicates the reduced number of birds.

The chief conservator of forests admitted that no attempt had been made to undertake a census, owing to the difficulty involved, as these birds are constantly on the move.