By – Sukham Nanda
Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the biodiversity hotspot under Tousem Sub-division of Tamenglong district in Manipur.
Zeilad WLS alongwith contiguous landscapes of Jiri-Makru WLS and Bunning WLS are known to be rich in biodiversity and important for conservation. Very little work has been carried out in these areas and the repository of biodiversity is yet to be explored. On the other hand, tree felling and habitat destruction through reduced fallow Jhum cultivation is taking a serious toll on biodiversity. Hunting is a common practice. The area is home to endemic species and offers potential for the discovery of many new species.
Communities belonging to Zeliangrong Naga, particularly the Rongmei tribe of 6 villages within the periphery of Zeilad WLS are facing extreme difficulties for basic developmental facilities such as road, health care and education. Mr. Mathew, Chairman of Bamgaijang Village has informed team visiting the sanctuary. He had informed that the approach road from NH-37, Changdai, Kahulong to Bamgaijanj is in deplorable condition and villagers are facing extreme hardships to travel by foot for nearly 6-7 hrs. to reach Bamgaijang from the Highway or vice-versa. Roads are narrow with ruts all the ways making difficult to drive vehicles and during monsoon vehicle movements are also restricted. Communications are at life-risks, besides villagers attempting travels for livelihoods and emergency health care services at Tamenglong.
Villagers have informed about their problems and are keen to work towards expanding conservation, restoration efforts and therefore would require help in motivation, mobilization and development of ecotourism initiatives including training of locals as guides and other ecotourism ventures. It was informed that the ownership of community areas are largely private or clan-based, and with their practice of Jhum cultivation the entire village community participates in conserving forest areas in decision making and resolutions passed by the Village Councils for ban in hunting and extracting forest resources etc.
Protecting forest and wetland ecosystem is not only important for regenerating degraded jhum lands, and for locals who can continue to draw upon its myriad ecosystem services, but also because these forests have connectivity to nearby sanctuaries for conservation. This ensures conservation and restoration at the landscape level, and allows possible movement of animals across the landscape, preventing species fragmentation etc. Hence creation of Community Conserved Areas and enforcement of rules and regulations to prevent hunting and tree felling will be a core strategy to protect biodiversity of Zeilad WLS and also motivate others to follow suit and encourage conservation efforts in Manipur.
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