Sangti Village

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 West Kameng, Arunchal Pradesh River Species Protection Not Available Not Available

Case Study (2009)

Background

Sangti village is in the catchment of the Sangti river, in the West Kameng District of Arunachal Pradesh. It is located at a distance of 11 km from the Bhalukpong-Tawang road, and to go there one has to get off the road at Dirang, cross the Dirang river and follow the dirt track along the Sangti river. With an altitude of about 1500 m, the winters here are cold and dry. The landscape is that of a wide, open valley with paddy fields, some of which are marshy along the river on one side.

The Morpa community which inhabits this area are mainly Buddhists and also followers of the ancient animist tradition. Rituals involving sacrifice are still prevalent amongst the animists. Agriculture is one of the occupations practised by the villagers, in which most agriculturalists grow paddy and maize. Besides this, horticulture, rearing of hens, sheep, cows, goats, pigs and horses is also practised. The rate of literacy amongst the Morpas is very high, and some of them have found employment with the government and the army, stationed here.

This open valley has been an ideal habitat for the wintering black-necked crane, now an endangered species. These birds have been regularly visiting this valley since the early 1950s. It is an ideal breeding ground for these avian visitors and the marshy lowlands act as a good source of food supply for them. At night the birds choose to roost in the middle of the river on sandy islands with vegetation, in order to safeguard themselves from wild animals like leopard, jackal, common civet and wild dog.

The black-necked cranes arrive towards the end of November or early December and leave the area by early February (this coincides with the lean period of the villagers). The cranes also feed on insects and the grains fallen in the fields after the harvest. The birds’ choice of nesting site is a marshy spot in a field owned by a farmer.

The villagers believe that these birds are harbingers of better yield of paddy in the following season, and that if they do not visit the area, their crops will suffer a pest onslaught. Even the children in the village are taught at a young age not to tease or cause any kind of harm to the birds.

Prior to 1990, it was believed that the black-necked cranes had become extinct in India. In 1990, a Pune based ecologist, Prakash Gole, surveyed the area with the logistic help of the army and he came across a few birds at a site close to Sangti. The discovery of a so-called extinct species aroused within him a search to find more of these birds. This brought him to Sangti village where he found a roosting population. This ‘discovery’ of the black-necked crane roosting site in India delighted Gole and he organised several meetings with the local people, the local school authorities and the army. As an outcome of these meetings it was decided to form a committee that would take on the responsibility to offer protection to the cranes and their habitat. The Black-necked Crane Conservation Committee (BCCC) was then formed, which comprised key individuals, including Kazang Namsay (the village headman, Gaon Bura), D. Siam (Deputy Director, Government Sheep Breeding Farm), S. Koltia (Headmaster, Sangti Head School), Sharma (Teacher, Sangti School), and Prakash Gole, (Ecological Society of India, Pune).

The Sangti School, was 1 km away from the breeding site and took the responsibility for maintaining regular records of the date of arrival, departure and total number of the birds at that time. It became an important centre for holding meetings, dissemination of information related to the birds and spreading awareness amongst the student community.

The winter months, being a lean period after the harvest, are also a time for the locals to rejoice. Very often the area selected for this rejoicing is close to the breeding ground. Very often picnickers would be playing loud music and littering the place with packing-material waste and food leftovers.

In 1994, the army deployed 2 sepoys (guards) to protect the area from such noise-making parties that scare off the cranes. Simultaneously, in the same year, the road construction work along the river was stalled after making requests to the Public Works Department, since it caused a disturbance to the birds. In 1996, the forest department promised to provide free saplings to the community and the school to plant on the barren hill slopes.

Unfortunately, after 1994 the movement of the committee slackened due to transfers of some of the key persons from the area and differences between the army and the forest department. These differences resulted in the withdrawal of the sepoys who were posted for the bird’s protection. The plan of afforestation on the hill slopes did not materialise. The local committee was disheartened since they were expecting a number of tourists in the area but only a few tourists came. In due course of time the committee disintegrated.

In the meanwhile, despite there being no obvious threat from the villagers or from excessive tourism due to the Inner Line permit restriction,1 the number of birds visiting the area is declining. The winter of 2000–1 witnessed the arrival of a lone bird, which stayed only for one day. The reasons for this could be:

1. The drying up of the marshy land, which is a crane feeding area, caused by the felling of trees on the hill slopes;

2. As a result of the deforestation on the hills, the temperature has increased, leading to a change in the course of the Sangti River which now cuts through the paddy field which is a roosting ground for the birds.

3. Another factor influencing their diminishing numbers is that the farmer who owns the field has started using chemical fertilizers and pesticides since the past 2–3 years in order to increase his yield.

4. Continuing picnics and loud noise in areas close to the roosting site.

In 2001, the new headmaster of the Sangti High School and the teachers decided to restart the conservation process for the birds. The community was identified as the main stakeholder and it was realised that successful conservation could not occur if they were excluded from it. The teachers were of the opinion that the reason for the failure of earlier conservation attempts was that the committee did not consist of enough community members. It was decided that the local community, along with the various departments like the forest department, Irrigation and Flood Control Department, the Tourism Department, the Deputy Commissioner, and the local political leaders, would be given responsibility for effective and long-term conservation. Rekindling the interests of the people, making them aware of the ill-effects of the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers and education about conservation became a part of the new agenda. The status of this initiative since 2001 could not be ascertained.

  This case study is based on information gathered in the year 2001 by Ruchi Pant for this directory, from the following sources: Personal communication Mukul Sharma (Monpa), Sr. teacher and Headmaster; Ali, Teacher, Sangti School; Prakash Gole, Ecological Society; Kolta, Former Headmaster Sangti School, 1995 and Soumen Dey, WWF – Itanagar Field Office. Additional information was incorporated from P. Gole, ‘When the Birds come Home’, Down To Earth. 31 December 2006.

Ruchi Pant
16 Deshbandhu Apartments,
Kalkaji, New Delhi 110019.
Ph: 011- 251603984, 09810845648 (mobile)
E-mail: [email protected]

1 A provision under which all visitors need to get a permit before entering the state.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

Recent Updates

Villagers document Vulnerable black-necked cranes in Zemithang village, Arunachal Pradesh

A small wintering population of black necked cranes found in Sangti valley is being conserved by WWF-India supported Community Conserved Area.

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