Umpung strives to preserve state bird

Village, a ‘sanctuary’ for Hill Myna, seeks govt help

By Kynsai L Sangriang

MAWKYRWAT, April 6: Most human actions, if not all, have brought forth destruction to the floral and faunal diversity — from blemishing wildlife habitats, poaching for sale in markets to smuggling.
During these exertions, the number of Hill Myna, Meghalaya’s state bird, has been reduced to such an extent that they are now endangered.
In the wake of the population of Hill Myna dwindling year after year, the Dorbar Shnong of Umpung village, which falls under Ranikor Civil Sub-Division in South West Khasi Hills, had banned the capturing and sale of the ‘talking bird’ in 2018 and declared all the areas under its jurisdiction as ‘Hill Myna Sanctuary’.
Umpung village comprises a total number of 133 households.
However, imposing such a ban will not be of much help for the beautiful bird of Meghalaya as there is a dearth of big trees for the bird to make nests and lay eggs.
But empathetic locals from Umpung took a step forward in  helping the Hill Myna by making a nest, called ‘ruh’ in the local dialect of Umpung, and placing it atop trees for the bird to lay its eggs. And this system actually works!
Speaking to The Shillong Times, Myntri Shnong of Umpung, Walesson Khardewsaw, informed that the population of the Hill Myna in 2016-17 in Umpung and other villages near the Indo-Bangla border was reduced to such an extent that they were almost extinct for two specific reasons — lack of big trees and people making the ‘ruh’ to take these birds after they hatch out.
“They would sell it (Hill Mynas) at Photkroh, Balat and other markets in the border areas as well as smuggle them to Bangladesh at a price not less than Rs 3,000 per bird, which could increase to Rs 7,000, depending on the market. That is why the population of these talking birds has gone down,” Khardewsaw said.
“Therefore, in 2018, the Dorbar Shnong passed a resolution to conserve the Hill Myna in the areas of Umpung village, which is 5 km long and 3 km wide from Photrangdin in the north to Law Turniang in the south, Umngi River in the east to Pynden Sohsham village in the west. We also forbid people to catch and sell the Hill Myna and the Dorbar had also deployed volunteers at all nearby markets including Photkroh and Balat. If anyone is caught selling the Hill Myna, stern action would be taken against them,” Khardewsaw said.
Scientific Adviser to Umpung village, Robertson Basan, informed that the village had taken the initiative after meeting the officials and researchers in the field of animals, birds and wildlife from International Conservation Service (ICS) in 2017, during which the ideas on how to go about with the conservation of birds was instilled in the mind of locals.
Basan said that the Dorbar Shnong of Umpung initially faced a tough challenge in conserving the Hill Myna because the people of the village did not understand the value of protecting the environment. “The most difficult challenge is to make the local populace understand the need of the hour and stop this practice of taking birds from the nest and selling or smuggling them,” he said.
Asked about the changes that he had seen in the past three and half years, Basan informed that the attitude of the people of Umpung village has changed completely in which everyone is willing to conserve this wonderful bird. “Now, even the kids have stopped using catapult to shoot down the birds. And the most beautiful thing is that the population of the Hill Myna has increased up to about 60 per cent and we are looking forward to ensure that it keeps growing,” Basan said.
“To tide over some of the challenges we have been facing, we need the government to lend a helping hand so that we can take this as a pilot project from Umpung to the entire state. Therefore, the Dorbar Shnong of Umpung has requested the government in the state and the district administration of South West Khasi Hills to help us by banning the catching and smuggling of these birds and at the same time disseminate awareness to districts across Meghalaya so as to conserve the birds’ species,” Basan said.
During a visit to the outskirts of Umpung village, Hill Myna were seen perching on trees and laying eggs in the ‘ruh’ set up by people of Umpung atop tall trees.
Others who were present during the visits include Lambok Nongrem, village Secretary, besides Luking Nongrem and Sendarsing Syiemlieh, executive member of the Dorbar Shnong Umpung.
Syiemlieh was one of the many who made ‘ruh’ of the Hill Myna.

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