Hunter turns guide for green teams in Namdapha- Conservation foundation turns to Lisu tribesmen to save endangered species and generate awareness ROOPAK GOSWAMI
The stealthy footsteps that once scoured forests to capture unsuspecting prey, now lead conservationists to rare species on the brink of extinction.
Akhi Nathany, a Lisu tribesman of Arunachal Pradesh, has traded his hunting gear for binoculars. The credit for the exchange goes to Nature Conservation Foundation, a Mysore-based group that aims to conserve wildlife in Arunachal Pradesh by involving tribal communities.
Nathany, now a gram panchayat member, is the main field co-ordinator of the foundation. The 55-year-old has donned the mantle of a guide, directing conservation teams with their camera-traps to even the most inaccessible of Namdapha National Park.
“People like him have unmatched knowledge of the terrain and landscape of the park. He will just find a way out of nowhere and navigate you to where you want to go. We just explain some features of the area we want to go to and show him some streams and other reference points on a map and he takes us there, without any trails or tracks. Without his help, it would have been impossible to conduct camera-trap surveys,” said Aparajita Datta, a scientist working with the foundation.
The organisation works primarily with the Lisu tribe that has settled on the fringes of the reserve forest. Several former hunters are engaged in the wildlife monitoring program which offers return benefits like medical support, training in healthcare and education, by supporting schools and teachers in the villages.
The park sprawls over an area of 1,985.23 square km on the international border between India and Myanmar, in Arunachal’s Changlang district.
Aparajita pointed out that as most of the work has to be done on foot, the teams need people to ferry rations and equipment.
“We need people to go back to get rations as they run out. Also, we place one trap in a particular location for 15 days, and then move on to new spots. But we would like to place the camera-traps simultaneously. As we have a limited number of traps at our disposal, some of the Lisus go back to retrieve the contraptions from earlier locations and bring them to the next spot,” she said.
A community protection force for the park has also been mooted. As many as 25 species of mammals, including 10 rare and endangered breeds like the clouded leopard, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear and marbled cat, have been spotted here.
The organisation is also enlisting the help of the tribe to prepare an educational CD in Hindi for children in the state. “We will get a Nishi or Lisu narrator once the visuals, audio and script for the CD are put together,” she said.
Livelihood options for the Lisus have also been discussed. Leaders of the community have suggested starting a piggery to meet consumption and income needs.
“After much discussion, a plan has been worked out where beneficiaries will be identified and modalities framed accordingly. This will involve contributions from the community in the form of labour and manpower. Financial assistance for the piggery will be provided by the foundation as initial investments. Work will begin around September or October, after the monsoon,” Aparajita informed.
The foundation has also contacted organisations in Guwahati, Bangalore and New Delhi to promote indigenous Lisu handicrafts.
“Samples, pictures and product descriptions have been sent to two commercial enterprises as well as some entrepreneurs. The effort has yielded some supplementary income for a few families here. We have also granted financial support to a partner NGO near Namdapha to help set up a tribal handicrafts shop that will enable villagers to augment their income. We hope it will go a long way in generating awareness among local residents and tourists about the park. The shop is ready and will be open in time for the winter tourist traffic,” she said.