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Bird conservation from obscurity to popularity: a case study of two bird species from Northeast India


This paper discusses how competing value systems of different interest groups, help the obscure and lesser known species to become a part of a global conservation project. We analyse two community-based conservation initiatives where two littleknown bird species Bugun liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) and Amur falcon (Falco amurensis) have transformed the state of the landscape with a series of initiatives by Governments, NGOs and scientists. Bugun liocichla is found in only one location of Arunachal Pradesh and its population is currently as low as 14 individuals. Amur falcon is a migratory bird of prey that visits Nagaland in millions to roost for 2 months. This paper particularly, focuses on how the idea of conservation NGOs is introduced at the community level and how particular bird species gain popularity, locally and internationally. Using the notion of value, we examine how and why species gain specific value/s when the conservation projects are designed and implemented in community-based conservation projects in Northeast India. Based on ethnographic research, we have used semi-structured interviews and participant observation to gather information from key informants. We found that these bird species attain specific cultural, commercial and conservation values depending on various ecological, economic and social factors. In the process of conservation, the birds also become ‘development’ icons for the landscape. We argue that the two species have attained a ‘universal value’ attuned to the philosophies of global capitalist market and global conservation.

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  1. The species population is estimated to number 50–249 individuals, based on a known population of around 14 individuals. This is assumed to be equivalent to70–380 individuals in total. 06/03/2019

    BirdLife International (2019) Species factsheet: Liocichla bugunorumhttp://www.birdlife.orgon 06/03/2019.

  2. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with around 1300 government and NGO members in 185 countries.

  3. An avid bird-specialist and faculty in an academic institution in India.

  4. Majority of the population live in just two villages, Singchung and Wanghoo (Census 2011). In Singchung village, people follow Mahayana Buddhism, but Christianity is also on a rise. In addition to farming, Buguns also work in the construction of local infrastructure, rear Mithun, run small shops and trade in the nearby Tenga town.

  5. Categorized by IUCN as facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

  6. The Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) has a list of schedule of protected species. Schedule I & II have absolute protection with severe penalties if found convicted. Schedule III & IV species are also protected, but penalties are much lower. Schedule V species may be hunted if declared as pest and dangerous by the officials.

  7. In Northeast India, large tracts of forest are de facto controlled by local communities as per their customary laws. The state does not have any ownership or control over them.

  8. Nagas use hornbill feathers, wild boar incisors and bear skins in their headgear and Nyishis use macaque fur as machete cover.

  9. The nearest airport to Singchung is 300 km away in Guwahati, the capital of Assam. Indian citizens from states other than Arunachal Pradesh and international tourists require an 'Inner Line Permit' to visit Arunachal Pradesh.

  10. 1$  =  INR 72.

  11. The price will be lesser if tourists visit in groups rather than alone and if they chose to stay outside the sanctuary.

  12. The Rufford Foundation, a UK registered charity, funds nature conservation projects in the developing world.

  13. Whitley awards are given annually by the Whitley Fund for Nature to recognize effective conservation leaders across the globe. Also called the ‘Green Oscars’, the award is the most high profile of conservation awards.

  14. Pangti is the largest village for the Lotha tribe in the Wokha district of Nagaland.

  15. Documentary titled ‘The Amur Falcon Massacre’ was broadcasted in 2012. Bano Haralu, a journalist and a film maker from Nagaland, along with a conservation advocacy group took up the cause of protecting the falcons.

  16. Doyang river is a tributary of the Brahmaputra, 26 km from Wokha town.

  17. Amur Falcon weighing 160–200 g and are one of the 15 species of raptors found in India. The birds are known for their trans-equatorial migration from Mongolia and Eastern China to Southern Africa and back every year (Bildstein 2006). The Indian Wildlife Protection Law does not specifically mention this bird in any schedule and IUCN lists this as Least Concern species.

  18. The global population of the species is estimated to be 1,000,000 birds (BirdLife International 2018). Around 12,000–14,000 falcons were reported to be hunted in the area for consumption and commercial sale every day during the peak season.

  19. A premier research institute tagged falcons with rings to study their movements and to map their migratory routes.

  20. A non-profit, non-commercial portal aims to facilitate nature conservation by providing information and the tools for awareness campaign.

  21. Recorded from the documentary.

  22. Constitutionally, Nagaland has been given special provision through Article 371A and the Pangti village council is the elected administrative unit. Apart from the council, there are other institutions, which dictate the way of life, such as the church, women’s association and various youth groups.

  23. Protection of these species indirectly protects other species that are part of the habitat and give refuge to many other smaller species, which otherwise go unnoticed.

  24. Species those who have a disproportionately large effect on its environment and plays a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community.

  25. ‘Conservation is our Government Now: Political Ecology of Papua New Guinea’. In this book West shows that when NGOs interacted with the local people about conservation, people thought of ‘earning cash’ and participating in the market, so that they can have access to material goods. Local people were trained to do small businesses, to work with biologists (as wage labourers, guides, porters) and for monitoring the wildlife population. The first two are related to development and later two are for conservation.


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This research was supported by a Social Science Research Council Transregional Research Junior Scholar Fellowship with funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. We are grateful to the contributions made by local community members of Singchung and Pangti; Divisional Forest Officer, Sheragaon Forest Division, Mr Milo Tasser; Dr Ramana Athreya; Dr Nandini Velho and Chief Wildlife Warden, Nagaland, Mr Satya Prakash Tripathi in our research. We thank Ms Sonam and Dr Vikrant Jain of Earth Sciences, IITGN for their help with preparing the map of our study area.


The research was funded by the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and was carried out with the support of IITGN (RES/SSRC/HSS/_0223/1718/0001).

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AA conceived and designed the study. SB did the fieldwork and collected data. Both authors participated in data analysis and interpretation, contributed substantially to manuscript development and revisions.

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Correspondence to Ambika Aiyadurai.

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The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

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All ethical protocols related to interviews and observation was approved by IITGN ethics board.

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Aiyadurai, A., Banerjee, S. Bird conservation from obscurity to popularity: a case study of two bird species from Northeast India. GeoJournal 85, 901–912 (2020).

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