Increasing the scope of hornbill conservation and protection of their habitats by partnering with government and local community institutions in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal.
Securing conservation in new sites
Hornbills are large birds moving over large landscapes and they face multiple threats due to human activities (habitat loss due to illegal logging, agricultural clearing and cash crop expansion) and hunting. Their long-term survival needs to be ensured outside the small islands of Protected Areas.
The Hornbill Nest Adoption Program is a relatively successful model for community-based conservation, which was adopted in 2011 to protect breeding populations of hornbills that occur outside Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh. Since 2017, we are trying to take this model to other sites in north-east India. However, we are modifying the model to engage with local partners in new ways, based on local context, to establish a long-term hornbill monitoring and protection network.
Dihing-Patkai landscape in Eastern Assam
Brown Hornbills are a little-known and rare species with their westernmost distributional limit in north-east India. They are usually found in flocks and, unlike other hornbill species found in India, they exhibit a co-operative breeding system. During the breeding season, males are assisted by other male helpers to feed the female and chicks at the nest and guard them from potential threats.
Jeypore Reserve Forest and Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary along with 25 forest fragments, form a landscape which is the last remaining contiguous lowland dipterocarp-dominated forests in eastern Assam. The forests are home to many elusive species like the Golden cat, Western Hoolock Gibbon, Stump-tailed macaque and Clouded leopard to name a few. Based on prior knowledge of the distribution of Brown hornbills in the landscape, we started working on the species in 2017.
Successful conservation of Brown Hornbill necessitates a thorough understanding of their environmental requirements and constraints. Our research attempts to assess the status of Brown Hornbill populations and to study their behavior and breeding biology. We have found 9 Brown Hornbill nests, 2 Oriental Pied Hornbill and 1 Great Hornbill nest in the landscape till 2019. We have recorded 10 successful fledglings of Brown hornbill from 2017-2019.
We have set up a collaboration with Digboi College-Assam by signing an MoU to facilitate training and capacity-building of students and for undertaking conservation work with the local communities in the area. We are also actively engaging with the Forest Department regarding our findings to formulate solutions to the local conservation issues in the landscape.
Upper Siang district, Central Arunachal
Upper Siang district, situated in the Central-northern part of Arunachal Pradesh, is comprised of forested hilly ranges with moderate to steep slopes and narrow valleys, separated by the Siang River and its tributaries. The elevation varies from 1100 to > 4000m asl. With its dense vegetation and hilly terrain, this area is home to many endangered fauna such as takin and goral, as well as to the Adi tribal community, who are prolific hunters. On earlier surveys, we had confirmed the presence of the globally endangered Rufous-Necked Hornbills (RNH) here, while identifying threats such as expanding human populations, cultural hunting, infrastructure development (roads and hydropower) and climate change.
We are focusing on three villages in the area - Migging, Mosing and Bomdo. Understanding spatiotemporal variation in hornbill densities provides crucial information for formulating effective conservation. But in addition to field surveys, we are also conducting interviews to get a better sense of the local community’s perceptions towards RNH. This will help to strengthen conservation through the participation of the local community, while respecting the tribal rights to their territories and cultural practices.
Buxa Tiger Reserve, North Bengal
Buxa Tiger Reserve, one of the largest protected areas in the region of North Bengal, is home to four hornbill species - Rufous-Necked, Great, Wreathed and Oriental Pied Hornbill. We started work here in November 2017 in collaboration with Nature-Mates Nature Club, a Kolkata-based NGO.
From our initial work, Buxa TR seems to be a great place for hornbills, especially the Great Hornbill, with a substantial number of sightings recorded. Rufous-Necked Hornbills, which are reported to be locally extinct from bordering Nepal, are also not uncommon in the higher areas of the park. Buxa represents the western range limit of Wreathed Hornbills, hence it is possible that their density here is lower than elsewhere in north-east India.
The project has been mainly engaged in studying the breeding biology of all four sympatric hornbill species, conducting an occupancy survey to understand the distribution/abundance of hornbills, monitoring hornbill roost sites and understanding the vegetation type of the study area. Along with this, the project is also exploring opportunities for partnership with the Forest Department, Tourist Guides Association and local community members to enable a long-term hornbill monitoring and protection program.
For studying the breeding biology of all four hornbill species of Buxa Tiger Reserve, the team has been monitoring hornbill nests throughout the breeding season since 2018. The team has identified 18 hornbill nests till date. Intensive nest-watches for some hornbill nests carried out in 2018 and 2019 have provided a better understanding of the nesting duration and diet during the breeding season for the Great hornbill and the Rufous-necked hornbill from this region.
During the non-breeding period, the team is engaged in conducting hornbill occupancy surveys by walking transects of 1.5 km within a grid system. Using the Point-Centred Quarter (PCQ) method we are also trying to understand the vegetation cover of Buxa Tiger Reserve. Hornbill roost sites are monitored in the evenings to understand hornbill population in the non-breeding period.
In November 2018 – February 2019, the team also conducted an occupancy framework-based survey in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary and Neora Valley National Park, which are two other Protected Areas in North Bengal.