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Sangai – Pride of Manipur

Scientific name: Rucervus Eldii Eldii
Common name: Manipur Brown Antlered Deer and Dancing Deer.

The single isolated population of Sangai in its natural habitat is found only at Keibul Lamjao National Park, Manipur over the floating biomass locally called “Phumdi” in the southeastern part of the Loktak Lake. It is unique and the only floating national park in the world.

There are three sub-species of Rucervus Eldii in the world; the other two Eldii sub species are Rucervus Eldii thamin of Myanmar, Rucervus eldii siamensis of Thailand. Recently there is news of another Rucervus eldii in South China. Of the three Eldii sub species, Sangai, Rucervus Eldii eldii has the least population in the wild and thus are the most endangered.

Sangai is a medium-sized deer. The size of a fully grown Sangai stag is about 110cm to 125cm high at the shoulder and Sangai hind is about 105cm. The length of an adult ranges between 145 – 155cm. The mature Sangai stag weighs about 110kg.

History of Keibul National Park:

Sangai was once reported extinct in 1951 and was re-discovered and counted six heads in 1953 by Eldi Percy Gee, the then honorary secretary, Indian board for Wildlife, Eastern region in a survey conducted under the auspices of the IUCN. It was the first turning point for Sangai Conservation. Following this event, the Manipur Wildlife Advisory Board declared Keibul area as a protected sanctuary and Sangai as a protected animal in its meeting held on 10th December, 1954.

Further conservation measures were taken up and Keibul Lamjao area was declared as a protected forest dated 25th November, 1965. Again Keibul Lamjao area was declared as a reserved forest dated 20th November, 1974 under the Indian Forest Act,1927.

The second turning point for the Sangai conservation was the initiative of the government of India in 1975. A team led by Dr. MK Ranjit Singh, the then Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India was instructed to go to Manipur and assess the population of Sangai. The team counted 14 heads of Sangai in 1975.

Finally, Keibul Lamjao covering an area of 40 sq.km was declared as a full-fledged National Park called Keibul Lamjao National Park by the State Government of Manipur for dated 28th March, 1977 for protection of its flagship species – the Sangai and other associated wildlife namely Hog deer, Wild boar etc under the provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

Once distributed throughout Southeast Asia, extending from Manipur to Indo-China, the Rucervus Eldii deer are now confined in patches in Manipur, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam and Hainan Islands. It’s global population is declining rapidly and critically endangered.

Sangai was reported extinct in 1951 in Keibul area; but there were counted 14 heads in 1975. With relentless protection, conservation efforts with local support; the forest department of Manipur became successful in increasing the population of Sangai to 260 in 2016.

This park support about 260 Sangai deer (Rucervus Eldii Eldii) and an almost equal number of Hog deer (Axis porcinus) as per the 2016 census conducted by Forest Department, Manipur.

Sangai and Manipuri Society:

Sangai was declared the state animal by Govt. Of Manipur dated 21st March, 1989. Sangai is revered very dearly by the Manipuri society. It was given the name “Ningthem” meaning “beloved son” in the fifth national games held in Imphal in 1999 and it was the mascot. Here for the first time in the history of Indian sports, Manipur came with flying colours by winning the overall team championship. There are innumerable business houses or products or brands which uses the name of “Ningthem”.

Tourism Department of Manipur named the state-level tourism festival as “Sangai Festival” from 2010 onwards. Overall, Sangai is the pride and symbol of Manipur society.

Cultural aspects of Sangai:

Many legendary stories are associated with Sangai. One such legend is that a prince of Luwang clan (one among the nine clans of Meitei tribe) of Manipur had transformed himself into a majestic deer known as Sangai.

Second, the ancient royal boat (Hiyang Hirel) had the decoration of Sangai head on its head part.

Third, according to Moirang Kangleirol (Folklore of Moirang), a legendary hero called Kadeng Thanjahanba, once brought a gravid female Sangai as a loving gift for his beloved Tonu Laijingrembi and released the deer free in the wild of Keibul Lamjao, henceforth the place became the only abode of Sangai.

Threats to Sangai:

– There is a significant change in the vegetation composition of the Phumdi in terms of shelter and food plants for animals.
–  The change in Phumdi thickness due to change in Hydrology, pollution and Phumdi proliferation.
–  Encroachment along the park boundary.
–  Dependence of the local population on the park for collection of food and fodder biomass due to their poor socio-economic conditions.

Major issues:

– Single isolated population non-viable and lack of connectivity for re-colonization and further loss of generic diversity. As per studies, the viable population should be more than 500 individual of Sangai.
– Shortage of staff and inadequate infrastructure for the protection of wildlife and its habitat.

Now it is up to us to save the endangered state’s animal life. By taking some step or by sitting quietly. The choice is open and ours to make.

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