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Protect Hornbills Project by Nyishi Tribe turns 10 successfully

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A successful conservation movement (Protect Hornbills) Project is underway in the lush forests bordering the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh to save the rapidly vanishing hornbills of northeast India.

The tribes, who used to hunt the exotic birds in large numbers, are now protecting their nests in order to help them repopulate.

Hornbills are forest health indicators, seed dispersers, and appropriately dubbed “farmers of the forest,” but they are threatened globally by habitat loss, fragmentation, and hunting.

Budhiram Tai, a gaon Burra (village headman) from Seijosa in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Kameng District, is one of 11 nest protectors in the Hornbill Nest Adoption Program (HNAP), a community-based hornbill conservation programme now in its tenth year. Outside Arunachal Pradesh’s Pakke Tiger Reserve, HNAP operates in the forests.

The great hornbill, rufous-necked hornbill, wreathed hornbill, and oriental pied hornbill all live in Pakke Tiger Reserve and its environs. Three of these birds, including the wreathed hornbill, are listed as ‘vulnerable’.

Because these birds have large home ranges, they feed, nest, and roost in both the Pakke Tiger Reserve and the adjacent reserve forest. In fact, flocks of wreathed hornbills, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, roost in the reserve forest at night.

While these hornbills and their nest trees are well protected within the tiger reserve, they are vulnerable in the Papum Reserve Forest adjacent to it.

The Nyishi tribe has several villages and settlements in the reserve forest. Previously, the majority of Nyishi held animistic beliefs. The men wear ‘podum,’ a woven cane cap adorned with the upper beak and casque of the great hornbill, as well as the tail feathers of other birds such as the racket-tailed drongo or a raptor.


Hunting was once a way of life in this area, as it was in other parts of the Northeast. Many wildlife species were hunted, including hornbills. 

The beak of the great hornbill, in particular, was hunted for use in traditional headgear. However, many people are now opting for fibreglass artificial beaks.

Hornbills are especially vulnerable during the breeding season when the female hornbill seals herself inside a tree cavity for almost four months of incubation and fledging. 

While it is illegal to hunt hornbills during the breeding season, there have been cases of violations in the past, mostly by outsiders. Hornbills’ nesting trees are also in danger of being cut down.

The forest department is the legal authority over the reserve forest, but villages on the forest fringes also claim rights to the land. To conserve hornbills and their habitat, it became critical to involve multiple local institutions and provide benefits to local communities.

Initiation of the Hornbills Nest Adoption Program (HNAP)

HNAP was officially launched in 2012 by the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) in partnership with the Ghora-Aabhe Society (a council of village headmen in the Nyishi tribe) and the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department.


Since 1995, Aparajita Datta of the National Conservation Foundation has been researching hornbills and their habitat in Pakke Tiger Reserve.

Datta proposed the HNAP after being inspired by Pilai Poonswad’s initiative in Thailand (which protects several species of hornbills in partnership with local villagers, while nests are adopted by Thai citizens or foreigners). The project is based on the idea that the local community protects the habitat and the nests, while other citizens and institutions adopt nests to support the program’s running costs.

As a result, the hornbill chicks have three sets of parents: biological parents, Nyishi nest protectors, and adoptive hornbill parents who contribute financially to the programme.

Over 21 nest protectors have found work as a result of this long-running community-based conservation programme, which may be one of the few in the country. Many of these nest guardians were once hunters, so they have a thorough understanding of the birds, their natural history, and the forest.

They now use their abilities to locate new nests and monitor them throughout the breeding season until the chicks are ready to leave. Their critical observations of breeding activities help to compile long-term nesting data.

The most significant accomplishment has been the successful fledging of 173 hornbill chicks from three different hornbill species — great hornbill, wreathed hornbill, and oriental pied hornbill — as well as the protection of 35 hornbill nests in the reserve forest over a ten-year period.




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