Decline in migratory birds in Manipur’s Loktak Lake worries Ornithologists

Decline in migratory birds at Loktak linked to private fish farms, increased fishing, poaching, and nighttime LED use by fishermen

Ornithologists at Manipur’s Loktak Lake (pictured) , South Asia's largest freshwater lake, express disappointment as migratory bird count drops.  (photo: National Herald archives)
Ornithologists at Manipur’s Loktak Lake (pictured) , South Asia's largest freshwater lake, express disappointment as migratory bird count drops. (photo: National Herald archives)


Ornithologists conducting a head count of migratory water birds at Manipur’s Loktak Lake, the largest freshwater lake in South Asia, have expressed disappointment over spotting fewer winged guests this time.

The census, organised by the Bombay Natural History Society and supported by Manipur's Environment and Climate Change Department and Loktak Development Authority, covered Loktak and the Keibul Lampao National Park (KLNP) last week.

KLNP, the largest floating park in the world and home to the rare and endangered brow-antlered deer, locally known as Sangai, served as the focal point of the head count.

“We conducted the census exercise at 50 spots across Loktak and Keibul Lamjao and each spot was manned by four ornithologists using telephoto cameras and binoculars,” Raj Kumar Birjit Singh, state coordinator of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), said on Thursday.

Students and researchers also supported the head count, he said.

Although the final census report is pending, Singh anticipates the total bird count to be less than 12,000, with a significant drop in species by around 10.

This decline is disheartening compared to previous figures, when over 20,000 birds of more than 20 species were spotted, and in some years, even over 30,000 birds were witnessed.

However, Singh noted that all the resident waterfowl species, such as lesser whistling ducks, coot, pheasant tail jacana, were still observed.

The census included certain migratory bird species like coot, ferruginous pochard, gadwall, but baer’s pochards from Mongolia, seen in previous years at Keibul Lamjao, were notably absent.

Singh attributed the dwindling figures of migratory water birds at Loktak to factors such as construction of private fish farms along the lake shores disturbing shoreline birds, an increase in the number of fishermen, poaching, and the use of LED bulbs by fishermen at night.

Before the census, a three-day workshop, 'Itinerary of the Waterbird Motivation Camp-2024', was conducted on January 17 at Mangolnganbi College in Bishnupur district.

Famous for its floating islands and picturesque landscape, Loktak Lake in Manipur’s Bishnupur district is the largest freshwater lake in in South Asia.

Three of northeast India's most important ecosystems -- Rudrasagar Lake in Tripura, Deepor Beel in Assam, and Loktak Lake in Manipur -- are categorised as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Held in February 1971 at Ramsar in Iran, the Ramsar Convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources.

Amid Manipur’s battle against protracted ethnic violence, the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) and the fishing community that is facing the impact of indiscriminate hunting of waterfowl and the illegal use of the electric shock method for fishing, have been urging the public to emerge as responsible guardians of this invaluable natural resource.

LDA Chairman Asni Kumar Singh, however, said that the lake is not just a source of livelihood, but a goddess to the people of Manipur and a mother to the fishing community.

It is the cradle of Manipuri civilisation and culture, Singh pointed out.

Singh has appealed to the communities dwelling around the Loktak Lake to discontinue the illegal use of the electric shock method of fishing and illicit hunting of waterfowl and endangered species of migratory birds by using firearms.

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Published: 26 Jan 2024, 11:00 AM