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The holiday season springs a pleasant surprise from Arunachal Pradesh



Posted on 08 January 2013  | 
The Remote Valley
Pangchen Valley, near the remote settlement of Zemithang in the state of Arunchal Pradesh, India is one of WWF-India’s areas of focus in the Tawang district. Adjoining the Pangchen Lumpo Muchat and Pangchen Lakhar Community Conserved Areas, which cover an area of 183 sq. km. and hold many rare flora and fauna, the valley has sprung surprises time and again with glimpses of its amazing biodiversity. The inhabitants of the valley, Monpas, have a strict no hunting code and are the ideal guardians of this remote but very scenic mountainous landscape.

WWF-India, through its Western Arunachal Landscape (WAL) office, has been engaged with the local communities for conservation and sustenance of biodiversity in the area since 2007. The striking biodiversity of the valley includes the red panda, common leopard and the critically endangered black necked crane, a winter visitor to the valley, and many rare trees, shrubs and medicinal herbs.

Dr. Pijush Kumar Dutta, Senior Landscape Coordinator, WWF-India, WAL Office, said, “The entire valley holds immense importance in terms of critical biodiversity found in the region. With the formation of the Community Conserved Areas, people have realized the value & significance of the flora and fauna found there and have aided in conservation measures adopted by WWF-India immensely.”

The Firecat
Pangchen Valley is also one of the main focal areas in WWF-India’s red panda conservation project in Western Arunachal and since 2008, field surveys have been carried out to document the presence-absence of red panda and to ascertain the population status of this not so commonly seen mammal. A recent survey, conducted in the latter part of December 2012, sighted a total of 5 red pandas within a week! Given the paucity and rarity of sightings of red panda in the wild the sightings of so many red pandas during the survey was a pleasant surprise.

“The abundance of sign and sightings obtained during this trip, especially of the younger ones, shows a healthy breeding meta-population which is a very positive sign. Further surveys and sampling will give a clear picture of the red panda distribution in the area and the conservation strategies required,” stated Rajarshi Chakraborty, Senior Project Officer-Species, WWF-India, WAL Office.

The survey team consisted of WWF-India personnel including Lham Tshering and Degen Dorjee, residents of the valley and local guides who have in-depth knowledge of the area’s flora and fauna. The first two sightings were encountered near a place called Kumrotser, where WWF-India’s Degen Dorjee had captured a video of a red panda earlier this year. The third sighting, obtained on the lower slopes of the valley on 22nd December, 2012, was a special one where three red pandas were encountered on a single tree!

From the field observation, the group seemed to consist of a mother and her two cubs which is a very encouraging sign indicating the presence of a breeding population in the area. Abundant secondary evidence was also documented throughout the survey, thus showing a very healthy distribution and presence of the firecats. The entire stretch has been proposed as the Pangchen Lakhar Community Conserved Area. The pro-conservation attitude adopted by the Monpas, enhanced after the formation of the CCAs, has helped immensely in the well-being of the red panda habitats. WWF-India is currently engaged in intensive surveying in other adjoining areas of the Pangchen valley which is aimed at building a conclusive picture of the presence and population status of red pandas in the area, thus aiding future conservation strategies.

Urgen Rinchin, Community Mobiliser, Zemithang, said, “Before the advent of the Community Conserved Areas and involvement of WWF-India in the region, people were unaware of the significance and importance of species such as the red panda. Now , even the common villager knows that it’s a rare species which needs protection and stops any undesirable attempt to harm the animal or its habitat.”

The trip had the perfect ending when a pair of black necked cranes was documented near Zemithang, in the Naymjang Chhu Valley. The elusive birds have made the valley their winter resting grounds since many years and their presence is considered as a lucky omen by the Monpas. Great care needs to be taken while planning future developmental strategies to ensure that Pangchen Valley continues to provide safe haven to such iconic species of the region.

For further information:
Dr. Pijush Dutta
Senior Landscape Coordinator, WAL
WWF-India
M: +91 94366 31181
E: pijush@wwfindia.net

Anil Cherukupalli
Senior Communications Officer
WWF-India
T: +91 11 4150 4783
E: anil.cherukupalli@wwf.panda.org
A view of the Pangchen Valley in Arunachal Pradesh
© Jaya Upadhyay / WWF-India Enlarge
A panoramic view from Kumrotser in Arunachal Pradesh
© Rajarshi Chakraborty/WWF-India Enlarge
One of the red panda sightings
© Rajarshi Chakraborty/WWF-India Enlarge
A sighting where three red pandas were seen together on one tree
© Liam Tshering/WWF-India Enlarge

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