Nongin,the State bird of Manipur

Sanasam Yaiphaba Singh
Nongin (Syrmaticus humiae), a magnificent bird was declared as State Bird of Manipur in 1989. The bird is also named as Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant in honour of Mrs A.O. Hume,the wife of Mr. Allan Octavian Hume. Mr. Hume was a greatest influential ornithologist in nineteen century, and he had scientifically recorded the bird during his expedition in Manipur in 1881.In Manipuri the meaning of Nongin is one who follows the track of rain. ‘Nong’ means rain and ‘In’ means to follow. The name of birth has legendary story that a loving couple died due to thirst and hunger and their souls were changed into the pair of the bird. It was also believed that the bird knew the conditions and cycle of rain and cloud in the sky. Royal kings of Manipur used to present the beautiful feathers of the bird as awards for war or hunting heroes. The bird is a big forest bird and its size is of the local chicken. They are mostly dwelling on the ground and do not fly very far. The male are magnificently colourful and female are of dull colour.
An interesting case story in the recent years was that there was a time when it was to consider that the State Bird was locally extinct. The State Zoological Garden could not keep even a single State Bird since the establishment of the Garden in 1976.However due to the awareness and publicity to award a sum of Rs.50,000/- on one pair of live Nongin declared by the State Government in 2010, at least five to six Nongin were brought by the villagers of Razai Khullen and Shiroi Village of Ukhrul district.
It is worth to mention something about Mr.Allan Octavian Hume who for the first time performed an expedition to the less explored part like Manipur where he recorded as many as 500 bird species. He came in India as a Civil Service Officer. He also earlier came to Manipur as Junior officer and left Manipur with promotion as collector and transferred in 1856 to Etawah.  A. O. Hume   in his fourth expedition to Manipur in the first half of 1881 was a major study during which he managed to record all the bird species found in Manipur. The first hint of its existence of Nongin came from some ceremonial feathers, given to an envoy by the Maharaja of Manipur With a determination that the bird ‘had to be got’ he started his expedition. Hume mentioned at one point that his party consisted of 60 to 100 men which included officers, sepoy, workers, boatmen and villagers. The men used to cut vegetation of jungles where the mysteries birds have been glimpsed so that Hume could get shot at them.  The workers sometimes demanded to issue guns as they were going to the dense forest. However, the people worked hoping rewards of their services and also they never intended to be punished. ‘Sure enough, within the week they returned with one beautiful fresh skin and one perfectly uninjured bird in a cage, both unfortunately males’. The living bird quickly became tame and fed from the hand, but on the last day in camp the tent in which it was housed caught fire and it suffocated in the heat.
His wife Marry Anne Grindall who was married in 1853 died in 1890. He took early retirement at the age of 52 in 1882. After retirement he involved actively in the political reforms of India. . He became a vegetarian and gave up alcohol after his last ornithological expedition in Manipur in 1881. He also abandoned hunting and collection on bird species. It was estimated that he shot around ten thousand birds in his life which he stated that the killing was not for food but only for scientific study. He returned to England in 1894 at the age of 65 and died in London in July 1912 at the age of 83. The above narration is mainly based on an article ‘Allan Octavian Hume’ of Pioneer of Asian Ornithology written by N.J Collar & R.P Prys Jones (2012).
Another search of the bird was performed by Anwaruddin Choudhury who was the Deputy Commissioner of Baksa, Assam in January 1996, January 2001, October 2001 and the February 2002.  According to him the wild distributions of Nongin were in the hills of North-East Manipur in Ukhrul district in the North-East of Senapati district. And it also was occurred in the Valley of Irang River in Tamenglong district and the Karong and Phailenkot in Senapati district.
It was reported that in 2010, Shri Hitler Singh, the Ranger along with the wildlife lovers, Shri Dr. Kh. Shamungou Singh and R.K. Birjit Singh, 2010 visited Razai Khullen in the Jessami Sub-Division of Ukhrul district. The team went into the jungle on foot and stayed the night in the jungle, but could not find the bird. The villagers informed that the bird was mostly seen in the month of March or early April.
The major threats to the bird are unrestricted hunting both by guns or catapults, systematic trapping,  Jhuming,  forest fire and  other forms of capturing the bird. The bird is included in the Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Rule 1974 do not properly work in Manipur. A few Nongin have been kept at the Zoological Garden under Captive Breeding Programme. Recently a foundation stone was laid at Shirui village for conservation of a breeding centre for Nongin.  The State Government has Shiroy Lily National Park, Yangoupokpi Lokchao Wildlife Sanctuary, Kailam Wild life Sanctuary, Jiri-Makru Wildlife Sanctuary, Bunning Wild life Sanctuary and Zeliad Wildlife Sanctuary to protect and conserve the habitat and maintain sustainable environment.
Manipur is a junction of two ecological hotspots and is a place of rich biodiversity besides having hills, terrains, rivers, plains, swamps and wetlands. There has been more than 500 species of birds and almost the same number of species of orchids; and thousands of trees are found in the state. But thousand of parrots flying from the southern side to northern sides of the State in the morning and returned in the evening in the about twenty years back is not seen now. Besides, the flying of the long line of white cranes on the sky in the evening is also not seen now. Hari Nongnang which did produce a thrilling sound just before the sunset has not been heard now. The sound of Indian Koel and crow have not been heard. Some of the birds not seen in Manipur are Burmese peafowl (Wahong), hornbill (langmeidong) etc. Some of the varieties of Pelican and Cranes also have disappearing migrating in the Loktak Lake. It will be the social responsibility of the people to protect the rich biodiversity. Government programme like Joint Forest Management where public participation are more if implemented properly  in the hill area will be very effective for economic use of the forest products as well as protection of forest. In valley districts, roadside plantation of trees preferably fruit bearing trees with the full participation of the local people will be possible with minimum expenditure for plantation and maintenance during the period of COVID-19 pandemic. Then it may be expected that the fruit bearing trees will attract birds for food and playing, and in the same manner the children of the localities will play and eat fruits. The writer can be reached at [email protected]