In the forests inhabited by the Bugun tribe in Arunachal Pradesh’s West Kameng district, 10 village boys take turns every week to patrol a 17 square kilometre special area. Trained by the Special Task Force of the Tamil Nadu police, the local youth are voluntary participants in what is probably the state’s first government-community collaboration in the forest conservation sector.
Majority of Arunachal Pradesh’s forests are owned by the tribal communities, apart from the “preserved” or “notified” forests identified by the government. However, in January 2017, the tribal members of the Bugun community of Singchung Village joined hands with the Forest Department to launch the Singchung Bugun Community Reserve (SBVCR) — a 17 square kilometre hotspot for biodiversity. On Tuesday, the NGO won the India Biodiversity Award 2018 in the “Conservation of wildlife species” category conferred by the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and presented by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change in association with the United Nations Development Programme in Hyderabad. There were nine winners and 14 special mentions spread across four categories.
The Reserve was instituted under a clause of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 that enables any state government to declare a community-owned forest area as a “community reserve” if the locals are willing to participate in conservation efforts for the same. “Under it, the Community Reserve receives the same legal protection as National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries,” says Millo Tassar, DFO of Rupa Forest Division. Tassar has been instrumental in persuading the Bugun community leaders to collaborate on this project.
The Reserve lies right next to the Eaglesnest Wildlife sanctuary, a biodiversity hotspot, which is also home to the Bugun Liocichla — a new bird species that has no reported sighting anywhere else in the world. Identified as a new species in 2006, the bird was first spotted by Dr Ramana Athreya, a birdwatcher and an astronomer at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune in 1996. It is reportedly the only new bird species to have been discovered in India since 1947. “Because of their conservation efforts, the bird has been named after the Bugun tribe,” says Tassar. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Liocichla is classified as Critically Endangered (CR). “Today there are about 20-24 pairs which live in the area,” he says.
The NBA award especially recognises the community efforts to conserve the Liocichla. “We have had considerable success after partnering with the Forest Department,” says Indi Glow, member of the SBVCR, who received the award alongwith Sange Norbu Phiang in Hyderabad. “The initiative engages local boys, providing a good avenue for employment,” he says. The local Singchung residents work as camp managers, cooks, drivers, expert wildlife guides and other camp staff. Every household has at least one member employed by the program.
Apart from that, awareness drives in schools, rescue and rehabilitation programs as well as an eco-tourism initiative are well under way. The amenities for those visiting, however, are basic. “We don’t serve non vegetarian food either,” says Tassar, highlighting the kind of guests they expect: serious birders from the world or people who are actually interested in conservation of wildlife. “It’s definitely not meant to be a leisure trip,” he says.