Tue, May 7, 2019

Sikkim’s faunal richness evidenced by Camera Traps

‘Jangal main mor nacha, kisney dekha?’ is a lovely Indian proverb which means that even a very good thing needs to be made public if it is to be acclaimed by the people.
For this particular report, this proverb can be extrapolated that without visual evidence, Sikkim’s faunal exclusivity would be forever contested like the ‘Yeti’ discovery claims of the Indian Army.
The Indian Army last week posted in social media that it has found traces of the mythical Himalayan creature, Yeti, a claim which immediately attracted cynicism as only ‘tracks in snow’ were shown.
As for Sikkim, the Himalayan State can confidently share with the world about the wildlife found in its landscape ranging from as grand as the Royal Bengal Tiger to as mystical as the Snow Leopard. This confidence comes from the digital photos and videos of the wildlife being captured by the camera traps here since 2016-17.
A total of 262 camera traps were installed at strategic locations in the seven Protected Areas in the State by the Forest department. This was done with funding received from JICA-assisted Sikkim Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Management Project. In the second phase, 200 plus camera traps were placed in these Protected Areas.
Camera traps are motion sensitive cameras that can sense and record movements of animals in form of digital photos and videos.
History was created last December when a camera trap at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary recorded images of the Royal Bengal Tiger roaming the sanctuary. This camera footage supported the previous oral narratives of tigers freely criss-crossing the wilds of Sikkim having migrated from neighbouring North Bengal.
“Earlier before the camera traps and its footages, we could only say that Sikkim has different types of exotic and endangered wildlife species. We did not have photos or video records. As an example, we have heard of Royal Bengal Tiger moving around our State’s forests but it was doubtful without photographic evidence. But now, thanks to our camera traps, we have all the evidences and records to show that our biodiversity support such endangered and elusive wildlife species. There is no doubt that the forests of Sikkim are indeed a rich repository for floral and faunal diversity,” said Dechen Lachungpa, DFO (East Wildlife Division).
The same month saw the movement of a snow leopard at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary subsequently captured by the camera traps.
Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, spread over124 sq km in East Sikkim, shares borders with the forests of Bhutan, and Neora Valley National Park of North Bengal. It has proved to be a happy hunting ground for the camera traps which also captured the Indian Bison on two occasions this year.
First, it was a lone Indian Bison and in the second time, it was a whole herd of the Indian Bison. The Indian Bison is also a Schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
Wildlife Division teams visit the camera trap locations every two months. They replace the battery of the cameras and retrieve the data stored in the memory cards.
As informed by the DFO, fresh footages are yet to be collected from the higher altitudes due to snow and inclement weather conditions. Data collected from the camera traps are shared with Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun for analysis, she said.
Camera Traps Installed At: Singba Rhododendron Sanctuary, Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctury, Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary, Kitam Bird Sanctuary, Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Khangchendzonga National Park and Fambonlgo Wildlife Sanctuary. They are all Protected Areas.
How Many: 262 in the first phase (2016-17), 200 plus in second phase (2018-19)
Placement: To efficiently carry out the camera trap survey, each of the Protected Area was divided into 5x5 km grids with each grid serving as a sampling unit of the survey.
Result: The first batch of the camera traps (262 locations) has yielded 4,625 photographs among which 1,120 photo-captures were of wildlife and 924 of mammals. Among them, species level identification was possible for 34 species.
Target species: The survey emphasised on evidence detection and record of 16 species like snow leopard, golden cat, Tibetan Wolf, Asiatic black bear, Large Indian civet, blue sheep, musk dear, Himalayan thar and Himalayan serow.
Sikkim A Happy Hunting Ground for Majestic to Elusive
Pic: Images of the Royal Bengal Tiger and snow leopard captured by the camera traps at Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary in December, 2018. Pic courtesy: Forest department.

Area: 7096 Sq Km
Altitude: 5,840 ft
Population: 6.10 Lakhs
Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 ft. to over 28,509 ft above sea level
Summer: Max- 21°C ; Min – 13°C
Winter: Max -13°C ; Min – 0.48°C
Rainfall: 325 cm per annum
Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi