Forest cover, hunting and animal abundances across state and community forests of Meghalaya, India

Goswami, Rajkamal (2015) Forest cover, hunting and animal abundances across state and community forests of Meghalaya, India. Doctoral thesis, Manipal University, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE).

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Tropical forests are among the most biodiversity rich ecosystems. Overlapping with some of the poorest and rapidly developing regions of the world, they are also among the most threatened ecosystems today. To counter these threats and to prevent biodiversity loss two main conservation approaches has been followed: strict protection (Protected Area, PA) and involving local communities under the broad terms of community based conservation (CBC). Assessments of PAs success has largely focused on outcomes such as conserving species, habitat protection, management effectiveness whereas for CBC, evaluations have focussed on socio-economic well-being and social justice. Most previous assessments for PAs and CBCs were based on cases studied at separate sites and time, few have been carried out at landscape scales while fewer have used multiple-criteria across large spatio-temporal scales. This thesis adopted a comprehensive assessment framework to measure the habitat and animal species-based parameters across two categories of management viz. state and community forests. I also analysed how the drivers of such changes affect the conservation outcomes of the community and state forests. The field work for the study was carried at state-owned reserve forests and community-owned elaka forests of Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya, where developmental changes and hunting of wildlife is predominant. Forest-cover changes were analysed using RS-GIS tools at a landscape level for the years 1994, 2003 and 2014 across 2 state forests (reserve forests) and 8 community forests (elakas). Hunting pressures were estimated using hunting-recall surveys in 15 villages spread across a reserve and an elaka. Vertebrate abundances were estimated through surveys carried out at 17 reported hunting sites spread across the reserve (low hunted) and the elaka (high hunted) forests. The landscape change analysis revealed that until 2003 the changes in the reserve and the elakas were similar while after 2003 large forest areas in the elakas were converted to industries and mining. The reserves, on the other hand, still managed to retain a high proportion of dense forests (77-93 %) compared to the elakas (28-34%) in 2014. At a local scale, the hunting survey revealed that the local communities possessed a rich knowledge about the animals, acquired through a long history of hunting. Cash was found to be the most important driver of hunting indicating a local demand for wild-meat in the landscape. The preference list of the respondents confirmed this and it was found that the most preferred animals had very high cash value. One hundred and seventy two animals were reported to be hunted during the last 3 months across 12 families of mammals and one family of birds. The most hunted species, small squirrels (Sciuridae), palm civets (Viverridae), and pheasants (Phasianidae) were among the least preferred animals. The absence of highly preferred species like gaur (Bos gaurus) and sambar (Cervus unicolor) both from hunting-recall list and the subsequent animal survey that was carried out may be an indicator of their local extinction owing to high hunting pressures. The encounter rate of the animals were significantly higher in the reserve compared to the elaka. Highly preferred species like Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) were detected only in the reserve while the abundances of the highly hunted arboreal frugivores and ungulate herbivores were significantly higher in the reserve. Since the NDVI-based vegetation quality for the surveyed sites were similar, the variation in the animal abundances could be attributed to the hunting levels across the reserve and the elaka. The results showed that compared to the community forests (elaka), the state forests (reserves) were more effective in dealing with threats emanating from pressures exerted by both larger regional forces such as industrial development and mining and local demands such as wild-meat. Lack of appropriate safeguard measures and inadequacy of the local institutions to cope up with the pressures exerted by high industrial demand drove the large scale conversion of forest to non-forest land use in the elaka landscape. In the reserve, clarity about its legal standing and the application of pertinent forest acts and regulations probably allowed the maintenance of high-proportions of forest-cover across the same time. Lack of local regulations against hunting within the community and high cash value of many wild-life seemed to drive high hunting within the community forests. Occurrence of most game species within the community forests, difficulty in accessing the reserve along with voluntary compliance with the wildlife laws were the reasons behind less hunting pressures and therefore high animal abundances in the reserve forests. The multiple-criteria and multiple-scaled assessment revealed that the community forests could cope fairly well with local pressures but displayed high vulnerability to the underlying socio-political and economic drivers of forest and biodiversity loss. In comparison, the state forests showed higher resistance against large-scale drivers. Forests across the tropics are currently experiencing high growth pressures, drivers for which are similar to the ones in my study site. The nuanced understanding gained through the thesis can be used by policy-makers to craft more informed decisions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Copyright of this article belongs to the author, Manipal University, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE)
Subjects: B ATREE Students Thesis and Dissertations > L Students Thesis
Divisions: ATREE Students Thesis and Dissertations > Students Thesis
Depositing User: The Library Officer
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2019 09:53
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2019 09:53

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