Community Conservation in Nagaland

Neema Pathak

An Introduction:

Nagaland state of India bordering Burma, is occupied by about 15 different tribal communities. Each of these communities is culturally distinct from the other and occupy different parts of the state. Nearly 90% of land is under community ownership (unlike in other parts of the country). About 85% of the state is still under forest cover. Originally hunter-gatherers, these communities have intricate land use system, with land distributed between shifting cultivation (communal ownership of land), settled agriculture (private land ownership), and forest reserves (could be family, clan or community owned) to meet food, fruit, fuel, timber and other requirements. Wild meat is an integral part of tribal culture here. Most families own guns and go hunting nearly every day. Easy availability of guns (because of a few decades of insurgency in the state) and non-implementation of wildlife protection laws has led to rampant hunting. Increasing population and heavy dependence for on timber and forest produce for livelihood is also impacting the quality of forests. A combined effect of degrading forests and a high rate of hunting have led to a quick decline in wildlife populations, particularly, wild animals. Towards late 1980s and early 1990s some realisation about the degraded state of forests began to hit people. Drying up of water resources, declining availability of wild vegetables, declining population of wild animals, were among some of the reasons that created debates among many tribal communities, independently.  As a result a silent movement led to village council after village council declaring areas strictly protected for wildlife protection or forests reserves declared as protected water sheds.

In 1988, the Khonoma Village Council in Kohima district declared 20 sq. km. of forest and grassland area as the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary. Rules were formulated to strictly ban hunting (not only here but over the whole of Khonoma’s 135 sq.km. territory), to stop all resource uses in the Sanctuary area, and to allow only a few benign uses in the surrounding buffer area. A Trust was set up for management. A proposal is currently under discussion to extend the Sanctuary area to several sq. km. more of adjoining forest. The villagers are also in discussions with neighbouring villages, which if successful would conserve 200 sq.km. of unique habitat, with several endemic and threatened species. The village council of Sendenui resolved to set aside an area of about 1000 hectares (10 sq.km), after some discussions initiated by the village youth concerning the decline wild animal populations. The village has issued its own wildlife protection act, with rules and regulations for the management of the sanctuary. In 1983, the Luzaphuhu village Student’s Union resolved to conserve a 500 ha (5 sq.km) patch of forest land above the village as a watershed. In 1990, they declared another 2.5 sq.km. patch of forest as a wildlife reserve. Hunting is strictly prohibited in the wildlife reserve. Similarly, Kikruma village is regenerating and protecting 70 ha. Several villages centred around Runguzu are protecting an entire range with perhaps several thousand ha. of forest and 6 villages led by Chizami are reviving traditional protection of a few hundred hectares. Along many roads in the state sign posts are put up by village youth associations, warning readers that the area is under strict protection. According to wild life enthusiasts, who visit the state regularly claim that these sign-boards are effective enough to deter even outsiders. Different villages have different ways of dealing with violations, a simple fine being the most common. Some more sophisticated, with a higher fine for more endangered species. 

A number of endemic and threatened species are likely being conserved in these areas. The community protected forests in Phek district may have some of India’s last populations of the Grey peacock pheasant Polyplectron bicalcaratum, and of Mrs. Hume’s pheasant Syrmaticus humiae, apart from the Blyth’s tragopan. Sites like Khonoma, Zanibu, and Chizami have been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) as part of a global process coordinated by Birdlife International. Serow Naemorhedus sumatraensis, Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus, and perhaps Clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa, are other important species that are still found or recovering in these areas. Leopard Panthera pardus is reported from most of these sites.  In the absence of any extensive surveys, the floral diversity of such sites can be indicated by about 40 species of orchids reported just from Khonoma Sanctuary.

For more details on individual sites contact: Neema Pathak at natrails@vsnl.com