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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

Chinese lights keep migratory birds off iconic Loktak lake in Manipur

The annual bird census at Loktak Lake has been alarming for wildlife officials and activists in Manipur.

india Updated: Nov 05, 2017 16:19 IST
Sobhapati Samom
Sobhapati Samom
Hindustan Times, Imphal
Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in northeast India.
Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in northeast India.(HT Photo)

Manipur’s iconic Loktak Lake, a Ramsar site housing the only floating wildlife preserve on earth, has recorded a drastic drop in the number of feathered visitors from central and eastern Asia this year.

Blame it partly on Chinese lights.

Wildlife officials and green activists said only about 5,000 migratory birds, many from Tibet and Yunnan in China, were sighted in January this year. This is a fall of about 42,000 from the 2016 figure.

The 236.21 sq km Loktak, about 50 km south of state capital Imphal, has had issues with encroachers, overfishing and a barrage associated with a hydroelectric project. But the birds are believed to have been troubled most by light-emitting diode or LED bulbs used for fishing at night.

Some fishermen prefer the longer-lasting LEDs made in India, but the market is dominated by cheaper Chinese variants.

“Most of the migratory species are water birds and we did observe them coming in groups. But disturbance caused by the lights and low availability of food could have taken the birds away from Loktak,” deputy conservator of forest (park) Arun RS said.

The migratory birds used to spend three-four winter months earlier at Loktak, including the 40 sq km Keibul Lamjao National Park on its south western part. The park is dotted with phumdis or floating biomass that sustain several species of animals including the rare sangai or brow-antlered deer, Manipur’s state animal.

Wildlife officials say night fishing with LEDs is a fairly new phenomenon and the ‘light pollution’ has affected the nesting, breeding and foraging habits of the resident water birds besides keeping the migratory birds away.

The wildlife wing of Manipur’s forest department and members a local NGO named Centre for Conservation of Nature and Cultivation of Science have been conducting the bird survey at Loktak since 2014.

This year’s survey revealed at least 170 Chinese LED bulbs hanging on bamboo poles planted in the lake near large deep-fishing nets across 11 water bird congregation sites.

“It appears the birds, who fly 3,200-4,800 km with the arrival of winter, may have change their migratory routes this time to marginal habitats where may not have enough to feed on,” RK Birjit of Indian Bird Conservation Network, Manipur, said.

Among the species most conspicuous by its near-absence this year was the lesser whistling duck that used to outnumber all other birds such as cattle egret, gadwall, common moorhen and common teal.

Officials of Loktak Development Authority, responsible for the lake’s conservation, could not be contacted. But appeals to the authority to make the lake hospitable again for migratory birds are pouring in

First Published: Nov 05, 2017 16:19 IST

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