Arunachal Pradesh’s extensive geographical diversity, climatic conditions, and vibrant wildlife makes it one of the richest biodiversity and heritage spots in the country. This is precisely where you can see the iconic Red Panda in all its glory.
However, much of its lush forested landscape has been altered by logging, hunting, and the indiscriminate expansion of agriculture. Habitat destruction due to hydropower projects and excessive extraction of wood for fuel has become the biggest threat to many species, including the Red Panda
This is the story of how these small hamlets of the Monpa community are taking huge steps to provide a secure habitat for the Red Panda.
So what exactly is the Red Panda?
The Red Panda is a smaller and more agile cousin of the giant panda and is indigenous to the eastern Himalayas. With white stripes on its face, a bushy tail and an extra thumb for climbing, this animal with a bright orange and red fur is a unique addition to wildlife and biodiversity.
It is listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of threatened species and also under the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
The Red Panda lives in deciduous and conifer Himalayan forests mixed with bamboo undergrowth at an altitude of 2200 to 4800 metres. Two villages – Lumpo and Muchut – in the Pangchen Valley, located just south of China’s Tibetan Autonomous Region and east of Bhutan, fall precisely within this range.
According to India’s 2011 Census, Lumpo had a population of 254 while Muchut had 177. Still, tree-felling is a major problem. Both villages are in Tawang district, which is not connected to the national electricity grid. Power supply is both limited and erratic, so people use firewood for cooking and heating.
A community effort
World Wildlife Fund India identified habitat destruction due to excessive extraction of wood for fuel as the biggest threat to the red panda’s habitat. This prompted it to initiate a conservation programme in the eastern Himalayas in 2005. After that the villagers took over. They mapped the core zone where the red panda lives using GPS-enabled devices, and a buffer zone around it.
Since 2008, residents of the two villages have carried out joint patrols twice a year, with funds and technical help from WWF. For almost 10 days, teams comprising of 10-12 people scan every inch of the core and buffer zone forests.
‘We felt the need for conservation as our generation saw the decline in numbers and species over the years as we grew up. For instance, approximately, 20 years ago, snow leopards were commonly seen around the Shagro Delemzur grazing grounds. Not anymore.’, Ngawang Chotta, the Gaam Budha (village head) of Lumpo told.
The core zone is now a complete no-go area. The buffer zone has lots of oak trees and people cut these to heat their homes in the Himalayan winter. The Pangchen Lumpo Muchut Community Area Conservation Management Committee plans to ban this as well once people get other fuel. It has already banned felling of trees around the 100 or so water sources in the area.
‘It is also proposed that a fine of Rs 10,000 ($150) will be imposed on the violator for collecting firewood timber from the buffer zone’, Chotta said.
The Forest Department has also got the Central Government to sanction money so that the villagers can be given more fuel-efficient cook stoves at subsidised rates. Efforts are also on to provide LPG cylinders to these remote areas. However the Monpa’s are not waiting.
Source: The Better India