Galliformes are distributed all over the biological geographic zones of India. The distribution is related to the spatial distribution of food, habit and habitat, vegetative structure, topographic heterogeneity; climatic factors; etc. The highest report of Galliformes species is recorded from the Himalayan regions. It is believed that around 29 species are range-restricted within the Himalayas. And a few of them are restricted to specific area only. The state Manipur falls within the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot and the Eastern Himalayas endemic bird area. Many rare, endangered and vulnerable bird species are found in Manipur. Among the species, Nongin - Mrs Hume's Pheasant - is the State Bird of Manipur, sparsely distributed in the hill districts of Ukhrul, Senapati, Chandel, Churachandpur and Tamenglong.
The species is included in the group EMA (Eastern Himalayas, dense vegetation, mid altitude Galliformes) and the regions are characterised by tropical, sub-tropical, temperate and sub alpine vegetation. The bird is brightly coloured and ground dwelling in nature. They are included in the group Galliformes, commonly known by the name ‘Gallinaceous’. The species belongs to the pheasant family ‘Phasianidae.
At present, the scenario of climate variability and change is disturbing the Himalayan regions. Most regions experiences fluctuations in the temperature and precipitation regime. As a result, Galliformes habitats are climatically unsuitable under the predicted warming and fluctuating weather pattern. At this era, the sign is visible in the form of habitat loss. Therefore, the need of the hour is to find out complete information on topographical ranges of Galliformes species over the country. Moreover, the species can adapt to climate change either by shifting habitats according to the biophysical requirements or by evolving physiological and behavioural adaptations.
MRS HUME’S PHEASANT (Syrmaticus humiae) is evaluated as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The bird is listed on Appendix 1 of CITES and Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972. Due to its occurrence in the hill’s districts, the State bird is known by various names under different dialects, Nonggin by Meitei community, Tharikthra in Tangkhul, Wa-ru in Lamkang and Lickashila in Razai groups etc. The corrupt term of Nonggin is Loining-koi or Noining-koi. The name of a King ‘Nonggin-faba’ (C.1523-24) (Catcher of Nonggin) clearly suggests the presence of Nongin in the State since long time back. Like the folk story, the people of Manipur believed that the term ‘Nonggin’ is derived from the undying soul of a couple dying from hunger and thirst transformed themselves into an elegant-looking pair of birds to be known as Nongg-in.
In fact, the bird earned its name 'Nong-in' because of its ability of knowing changes in weather conditions or cycle of cloud in the sky (Nong- meaning rain, in - meaning to follow: one knowing the rain/weather cycle). Admired by lyricists and naturalists of all ages, Nong-in is often described as the most talented lover of song, dance and moonlight. The book ‘Gambhir Singh Nongaba’ (C.1830) clearly mentioned that the crown of the boy Maharaj Chandrakirti (C. 1834) was decorated with Nonggin feathers. The species is found in limited parts of India (Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh), Myanmar, Thailand, and China. Unfortunately, the populations in most of their range have long been undergone heavy depletion due to excessive hunting and poaching for their brightly coloured plumage and meat. Besides, a large tract of their natural habitat has been encroached upon for other human needs. As of now, Razai Khullen of Ukhrul district is the only place left for Nonggin where it is still observed. Unfortunately, the species is not reported from any of the protected areas in the State.
MRS HUME’S PHEASANT is one of the least studied among the birds. The species is vulnerable due to the anthropogenic pressures and environmental issues like global warming and climate change. Other factors like hunting along with habitat destruction makes the species population very susceptible. Sometimes, the bird is killed for its distinct bright coloured feathers for ornamental purposes. More importantly, the bird’s preferences of open, dry, sub-tropical evergreen (Oak), coniferous (pine) or successional mixed coniferous broad-leaved forests on steep, rocky hillsides make it easy prey to the hunters. As the species roosts mostly on located along ridges, and in other relatively open areas, they are easily hunt by the poachers. While, human activities like livestock grazing, collection of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) within the habitat area are partly responsible for the loss of this species.
Rapid Assessment Survey (RAS) is one technique to understand the ‘Nongin’ Habitat for Conservation and Management Actions. The idea is to assess the habitat use, altitude, aspect, slope, broad vegetation classes, shrub cover, grass cover, grass height, herb cover, herb height, rock cover, litter depth and livestock pressure. For the estimation of anthropogenic pressure, the total count of livestock is necessary. Galliformes encounter rate (Number of birds/km) and density estimates (number of birds/km) needs to be calculated for four seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring). The uncontrolled NTFP extractions particularly during April-May (spring), may cause adverse impacts on Galliformes and their habitats as it is their breeding period. These activities should be regularly monitored and restricted to reduce their impact on Galliformes and their habitats. Studies on the ecology and distribution of Galliformes species included in this study will speak of habitat destruction due to human encroachment or poaching as one of the threats to the Galliformes habitat, besides the looming threat of climatically challenges that lie in the future ahead.
(The views expressed are personal)