Nature Conservation Foundation is at the heart of Hornbill conservation in Northeast India. By introducing various projects along with the forest department and local communities it has brought a ray of hope for the survival of this magnificent species. Many of the locals who once hunted the birds have now become its protectors in a pursuit to preserve their natural heritage. Forest officials and guards, volunteers, scientists, naturalists and tribal communities today toil hard to repair the damage done and take the Hornbills to safety.
There are five species of hornbills found in the region – the Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Oriental Pied Hornbill, Rufous-Necked Hornbill and the White-throated Brown Hornbill. Though revered by the tribal people, Hornbills in these parts had almost been hunted to extinction for their meat and especially for their feathers and beak which is worn as a headdress by the tribes and meant to signify power and position in society. Habitat loss and large scale logging has also led to the major decline in the Hornbill population. Large amount of forests have over the years been cleared for plantations and in many forested places logging takes place unchecked, all causing a treat to the birds and wildlife in region.
Hornbill Nest Adoption Program
Hornbills mate for life. Once the female lays her eggs in a cavity of a tree, she sits to roost and sheds all her feathers becoming flightless. She seals the cavity, leaving space only for a beak meant to deliver the food. If anything were to happen to the male, the whole family would perish. And if that tree were to be cut down by loggers it would mean an utter tragedy.
In order to protect the nests, the NCF has collaborated with the Nyishi tribe’s Ghora Aabhe Society and the Arunachal Forest Department inside the Pakke Tiger Reserve and other un-protected neighboring areas. Field workers mainly belonging to the Nyishi tribal community, work strenuously to find, protect and monitor Hornbill nests in the area. One can adopt a hornbill nest by paying an amount of Rs. 6000 a year, which goes towards the salaries of these nest protectors and get a report on how the nest and birds are faring. One can also visit one’s Hornbill ‘children’ to get a firsthand look into the on goings of the project. From 2011 to 2017, this program has protected 40 Hornbill nests and helped 103 chicks fledge successfully.
Awareness in local communities
Much awareness has been created in the region in regards to the protection of the Hornbill species. The Hornbill beaks which were used by the tribal people have now been replaced by artificial beaks. In the beginning it was difficult to convince the tribal people to adopt the charge of protecting the Hornbills, but wise as they are and close to nature, many of the tribes have come to choose conservation in opposition to hunting the Hornbills to extinction.
Hornbill as the Farmer of the Forest
The NCF on the research front has carried out intensive research on the role of Hornbills as seed dispersers as part of the doctoral work of research scholar Rohit Naniwadekar. The focus has been in areas such as the Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Miao Reserved Forest and Changlang district in Arunachal Pradesh. The study delved into the relationship between food plants and Hornbills in that area. Hornbills swallow the fruits whole, which gives the seeds more chance of sprouting upon disposal and they travel quite a distance before finally settling on another tree thus spreading the seeds over a large area. The research also studied how this relationship was affected by threats like hunting and logging.
Hornbill Survey across Northeast India
The NCF has also conducted a survey to ascertain the presence of Hornbills in the various states of Northeast India by interviewing village elders, hunters, forest officials and staff and also by trekking to various areas to identify the different species and understand the ecology in which they thrive. This survey has helped a lot in putting further conservation plans in place.
Restoration of Hornbill Habitats
Habitat destruction being the major concern resulting in the drop in Hornbill count, the NCF has set up a rainforest nursery in Darlong village near Pakke Tiger Reserve. In the nursery, many rainforest tree species are nurtured and planted in degraded patches. The tree species include those that attract Hornbills, other birds, primates and other animals including some species of trees that are economically viable for the resident population. The project involves finding the seeds, sprouting, nurturing, planting, inclusion of local communities in the project and monitoring the sapling survival.
With these projects at work the NCF along with the forest department in the region and with the support of the tribal people, researchers and volunteers are striving hard to protect the various Hornbill species in the Northeast. Yet much work is to be done to ensure their survival and lead them into a safe haven they once occupied and cherished.