In Manipur, the habitat of endangered sangai deer is facing threat from climate


The suitable habitat of the threatened sangai or brow-antlered deer (Rucervus eldii eldii) found only in Manipur’s Keibul Lamjao National Park is likely to narrow down and become limited by 2,050-2,070 due to climate change, according to new research.

The study published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment has revealed that the suitable distribution areas for the sangai deer will be narrower and will be restricted to the central core zone of the protected area.

Unlike other national parks in India, Keibul Lamjao National Park is a 40 sq km patch comprising mainly of floating biomass (locally called phumdi) and water body, in the southern rim of the saucer-shaped Loktak Lake, a Ramsar wetland of international importance and the largest freshwater lake in northeast India. As per the 2016 census, the park is home to 260 sangai.

A male sangai. Photo credit: Raul654 via Wikimedia Commons

What study says

The study modelled and analysed the habitat suitability potential for the current scenario and projected the future scenarios of potential habitat suitability of the sangai in Keibul Lamjao National Park based on climatic conditions and topography of the region.

Carried out by Vicky Anand and others from the Department of Civil Engineering, National Institute of Technology Manipur, Imphal under the guidance of Bakimchandra Oinam, the study used two climate change scenarios or representative concentration pathway scenarios (representative concentration pathway 2.6 and representative concentration pathway 8.5) to create geographical distribution maps spinning to 2050 and 2070 and compared them to the current potential distribution map. The driving factors for the impacts are rainfall in the monsoon (wettest) months and isothermality.

“The study result indicates that the high suitability zones within the national park will decrease in terms of area (ie the spatial extent) and the high suitability zone will be limited to the central core zone of Keibul Lamjao National Park,” Bakimchandra Oinam told Mongabay-India. “Secondly, the high suitability zone will shift from the western periphery of Keibul Lamjao National Park towards the central region.”

Location of Loktak Lake and Keibul Lamjao National Park acquired through Google Earth Pro. Photo credit: Vicky Anand, NIT Manipur

Sangai or the Indian Eld’s deer is one of the three subspecies of Eld’s deer found in South and South-East Asia. It has adapted itself to a unique habitat of the floating meadows or phumdi at the national park, a marked difference from the other two, according to background information provided by the Wildlife Institute of India. The sangai is identified under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change funded Endangered Species Recovery Programme that is executed by the Wildlife Institute of India.

Sangai is listed as “Endangered” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species and Schedule I of the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. Sangai is also included in Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

The deer was thought to have gone extinct in 1951 until a remnant population was rediscovered in 1953 at the south-eastern fringe of Manipur’s Loktak lake in a survey conducted under the auspices of the IUCN.

Phumdis over Loktak Lake. Photo credit: Vicky Anand

Climate change

The Wildlife Institute of India had called for having a second home for the sangai as the present population at Keibul Lamjao National Park is a single, isolated population, and highlighted that the proposed reintroduction to a second site needs to be expedited.

Their report identified encroachments into the lake, changes in the lake’s hydrology, impacts of the Ithai barrage, excessive proliferation and thinning of the meadows, susceptibility of the deer to inbreeding depression as some of the major challenges to the conservation of sangai….

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