By Priyanka Vaid:
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands consist of more than 300 islands, a majority of which are covered with dense tropical forest supporting a broad spectrum of flora and fauna. These islands are home to a number of endemic species of birds. Some bird species here are found nowhere else- like the Nicobar pigeon, Nicobar Bulbul, Andaman Scops-owl, Nicobar Parakeet, and Andaman Drongo. One such species is the Narcondam Hornbill that inhabits the volcanic island- Narcondam. It is a very small island in the Andaman Sea having thick moist evergreen forests consisting mainly of vines and tall, flowering trees. The Narcondam Hornbill is a species that is found nowhere else in the world and, with its population presently at 300, has gained a place in the category of ‘endangered species’ (listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature). It has been enlisted in the schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, meaning that this species deserves the highest degree of protection.
Narcondam Hornbills are particularly vulnerable to all forms of disturbances – natural and man-made due to their small population sizes and isolation. Moreover, hornbills have very specific food and breeding preferences; they feed on fruits of large-seeded trees which are found in undisturbed forests and require mature soft-wooded tree species for nesting and roosting. At the time of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female birds shed their flight feathers, rendering them vulnerable.
After the establishment of a police outpost which came in place after the clearing of a few hectares of forest on this island, trees are cut regularly to provide for the fuel wood and other maintenance activities. This degradation of the tiny habitat of the hornbills aggravates the decline in its population growth. This species was in news recently, due to another threat to its already declining numbers. A proposal was made from the Indian Coast Guard to set up a RADAR surveillance system on the island. The ministry of Environment and Forests rejected this proposal, suggesting that the Coast Guard explore other options, like installation of off-shore structures and several other viable options which can spare the unique habitat of Narcondam hornbill from disturbance. This was after scientists and NGOs undertook a concerted campaign for the protection of the Narcondam species.
That such a small and remote island sustains a population of a species as large and unique as the hornbill is indeed a marvel and the care of this gift must be taken as long as the human civilisation exists on earth.