The Coast Guard’s proposal to install a radar on the tiny island of Narcondam in the Andaman and Nicobar cluster threatens to wipe out the last of the 350 endangered Narcondam Hornbills, which are indigenous to the island.
Categorised as endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species this year, Aceros narcondami, exclusively found in the lush wildlife sanctuary of Narcondam, has been struggling to survive.
In India it is listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Studies by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) suggest that the population of this endangered species is on the decline, making it vulnerable to extinction and in need of the highest possible protection.
The proposal for the radar and diesel power supply source installation came up before a meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife on June 13 where conservationists like M. D. Madhusudan of Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) pitched for its rejection for the dangers it posed to the survival of the bird and to the fragile island ecosystem. After a field visit, the committee, headed by Director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Asad R. Rahmani, recommended its abandonment. Bird watchers wondered why the Coast Guard was insisting on radar in an eco-sensitive location when there were other alternative sites like the Landfall Island.
In an allout effort to save the bird and pressure the Central government to abandon the ‘ill-advised’ proposal, conservationists have stepped up their campaign. Conservation India has come up with a short movie by wildlife film maker Shekar Dattatri.
Letter to Environment Minister
In a letter to the Minister of State for Environment and Forests, Jayanthi Natarajan, Divya Mudappa, T. R. Shankar Raman and Aparjita Dutta of the NCF have expressed serious concern. Of the 350 hornbills, only 161 to 185 (46 to 53 per cent) are mature breeding birds, with only 80 to 90 possible pairs. This is one of the reasons why their global threat status has spiked, they said quoting the SACON study.
Disputing the Coast Guard’s contention that the installation involved only 0.6736 hectares as “false and misleading”, they said 20 hectares would be directly affected, while 400 hectares or 60 per cent of the island area would be affected indirectly.
As the site for the radar was atop a hillock in the dense forest, access for its installation and regular maintenance would become important and a two kilometre road would have to cut through the virgin forest. This would mean cutting an unspecified number of trees that would not only affect the bird’s feeding, nesting and roosting but loss of the entire habitat, the NCF said.
Already a police outpost of 30 personnel has resulted in a loss of 50 acres and continuous disturbance, they said adding that construction of roads and their maintenance could also lead to great instability as Narcondam is a volcanic island with ash beds, loose rocks and soil.
Regular maintenance would invariably lead to further disturbance, erosion and spread of invasive alien species, the NCF warned.