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, have 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.
Based on prior knowledge of their distribution, in 2017, we started working in Jeypore Reserved Forest and Dihing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. Together, they form part of a landscape with the last contiguous lowland dipterocarp-dominated forests remaining in eastern Assam, home to many elusive species like the Golden cat, Western Hoolock Gibbon, Stump-tailed macaque and Clouded leopard.
Successful conservation of Brown Hornbills 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 behaviour and breeding biology. We have found 5 Brown Hornbill nests in the area and have documented successful fledging of chicks from 4 nests in 2018.
We have set up a collaboration with a local institution - Digboi College, with whom we will be signing an MoU for facilitating training and capacity-building of students and for undertaking conservation work with communities in the area. We are also engaging with the Forest Department regarding our findings and highlighting the conservation issues here.
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 was lower than elsewhere in north-east India.
We have found 10 nests of all the sympatric 4 hornbill species in the area and will be searching for more in the future, to gain more insight on their breeding biology in this landscape, which will help in building a conservation action plan. We are also working with the State Forest Department and local forest guides in order to build a strong conservation network in the area. In the coming year, we plan to expand our work to other protected areas in the North Bengal region.