|The Kaleej pheasant|
Siliguri, June 19: Threatened elsewhere, pheasants have found a safe haven in Kalimpong’s Neora Valley National Park, about 100 km from here.
A recently concluded survey by the forest department on two sub-species — the Kaleej pheasant and the Satyr Tragopan — shows that the high-altitude national park has an “impressive” concentration of these birds.
Both the Kaleej pheasant and the Satyr Tragopan are listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act as highly endangered species.
After a number of visits between June 2005 and October 2006, an expert team of North Bengal University, which carried out the survey for the forest department, has concluded that every square km of Neora Valley has about 5-6 Satyrs and 12-15 Kaleej pheasants (see chart).
“It is an impressive figure given that elsewhere the birds’ existence is highly threatened,” said Dipankar Ghosh, a senior coordinator of Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
“Pheasants are an important bird. They are indicators of the health of the forests,” ornithologist Sumit Sen told The Telegraph from Calcutta. “The fact that there is no large scale human interference in Neora Valley, which is generally not the case with other national parks, explains the presence of these reclusive birds there.”
Tapas Das, the divisional forest officer of wildlife II, said the study was taken up under a centrally sponsored scheme. “The aim was to find out the population, distribution and habitat preferences of the two bird species. The fact that there has never been a study on pheasants in this region and very little elsewhere prompted us to carry out the project,” he added.
The forest officer said the experts relied on direct sightings, call counts and indirect evidence like bird droppings and feathers along four trails to arrive at their conclusions.
Pheasants are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Included in Part III, Schedule I of the act, they are given the highest degree of legal protection. Offences related to the birds can be punished by three to seven years’ imprisonment with a minimum fine of Rs 10,000.
“Being a favourite game bird valued for its taste, they are some of the most critically endangered bird species,” Sen said.
“Habitat destruction and poaching are the two main reasons why the pheasant count is fast decreasing,” said Ghosh. “Pheasants are killed for meat, a practice that exists in many areas of north eastern India, and are often caught and traded because they are beautiful to look at.”
North Bengal University’s report has recommended measures that need to be taken up immediately for better protection of wildlife in Neora Valley. They include the removal of a huge cowshed, which has about 100 heads of cattle, adjacent to the national park as it increases the chances of man-animal conflict.
The report has also asked the forest department to post more forest guards in the area and provide them with modern equipment so that they are able to keep vigil even during the monsoon and winter. Besides, the report has warned the department against unregulated tourism in and around Neora Valley.