How the hornbill changed the economy of an Indian village | Florida Star

SILIGURI, India – “I never thought that the Dhanesh Chara (Red-necked hornbill in Nepalese) would become the source of my life and ultimately change my life, ”Parag Gurung, a 30-year-old birding guide at Latpanchar in the Kurseong subdivision of Darjeeling district, Zenger News said.

“I grew up seeing this colorful, big-billed bird fly and nest in the woods around my village.”

Latpanchar is a picturesque Himalayan village mainly visited by tourists looking for an offbeat holiday destination. It is located at an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level on the rolling expanses of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary.

Due to its proximity to the central area of ​​the sanctuary, the area is home to around 250 species of birds, including the Red-necked hornbill, an endangered species according to the International Union for the Conservation of Red Nature List.

With a length of around 117 centimeters (46 inches), it is one of Bucerotine’s largest hornbills. Underparts, neck and head are rich rufous (reddish brown) in males, but black in females. The population of this great hornbill has declined due to the destruction of evergreen forests and hunting.

Hornbills (Bucerotidae) are a family of birds found in tropical and subtropical Africa, Asia and Melanesia. They are characterized by a long, downward curved bill, often brightly colored and sometimes with a helmet on the upper mandible.

With a length of about 117 centimeters (46 inches), the red-necked hornbill is one of Bucerotine’s largest hornbills. (Ujjal Ghosh (CC BY-SA 3.0))

“This avian variety is currently found in Bhutan, Myanmar, southern Yunnan and southeast Tibet, China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam,” said scientist and environmentalist Rohit Naniwadekar. It is believed to be extinct in Nepal and close to extinction in Vietnam. In India, the largest populations and the greatest extent of suitable habitat are found in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and the northern part of West Bengal.

Besides the breathtaking view of snow-capped Mount Kanchenjunga in Sikkim, Latpanchar is gaining popularity among tourists for its birding potential. Bird lovers from all over India and abroad flock to Latpanchar for a rare sighting of the red-necked hornbill (Aceros nipalensis).

The hamlet has become a hotspot for birding after three birders in 2006 – Peter Lobo, Dipankar and Nabanita Ghosh – wrote about the species in Indian birds, a prestigious South Asian ornithology journal.

“The red-necked hornbill and other mountain birds have attracted hundreds of bird watchers to Latpanchar and other parts of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary and Neora National Park Valley, a popular bird watching trail frequented by bird watchers and nature photographers in this region, ”said Noel Fonning, a bird watcher from Siliguri, West Bengal.

“Although there is no official tally of national and international bird watchers who come to this village and the region, the number of visitors is increasing every year. Previously, the season for these visitors was from winter to late spring, but the trend has changed now as we can see bird watchers all year round, ”Fonning said.

Mount Kanchenjunga in Sikkim. (Amey Meher / Unsplash)

“I visited Latpanchar once in 2014 and twice in 2015 and all three times I had the chance to see and photograph the rare red-necked hornbill,” said Gururaj Morching, a bird watcher based in Bangalore. .

“All three times, I stayed in the houses run by the locals and hired a village bird guide who had a good knowledge of the forest terrain and places from which the hornbill can be easily observed,” said Morching, including Great year was in 2018 where he spotted 953 different species of birds in a single calendar year.

With the arrival of bird watchers and other tourists, the villagers of Latpanchar spotted a business opportunity. They opened their homes as home stays. There are more than 12 homestays and eleven bird guides who depend on the bird tourism that has developed in the village, said Gurung, who earns 1,000 rupees a day for birding tours.

“Bird guides accompany birders and photographers into the forest and help them observe birds in their local habitat. There are birdwatchers and senior bird guides and guide fees range from INR 500 to INR 1000 per day [roughly $6-13], depending on the experience, ”said Gurung, who is pursuing studies in zoology through distance education.

Gurung adds that his degree will help him better understand the biodiversity of the region.

Illustration of cinchona oblongifolia. The bark of cinchona is used to extract quinine, an antimalarial drug. (Rawpixel Ltd (CC BY 2.0))

“Birding has helped create an ecosystem that has boosted the economy of the village which has around 800 to 1,000 families,” said Sabir Subba, a bird guide who also runs the Latpanchar Homestay. “Previously, most of the people here worked either in the cinchona plantations or have migrated to different places in the Darjeeling Hills to find work.

The bark of cinchona is used to extract quinine, an antimalarial drug. Cinchona plantations were established in the Latpanchar area in 1943. The region’s first cinchona plantation was established in Mungpoo in 1862 under the supervision of Dr Thomson Anderson, director of the Royal Botanic Garden in Calcutta. The plantations were created by the ruling British Raj to ensure a constant supply of antimalarial drugs.

“From taxi owners to small restaurants and traders, everyone has benefited from the tourist activity that revolves around the bird,” Subba added.

Today, tourism in the region has spread beyond the village of Latpanchar to Selphu and Sitong. Together, the region is one of the most attractive tourist destinations for ecotourism in the region.

“The local community, local guides and homestays are the key to sustainable tourism in Latpanchar,” said Peter Lobo, a bird watcher who runs All India Birding Tours, a birding company based in Kalimpong.

“It can become a global birding destination because of the exotic species found here. If the roads are better developed, it would be easier for more tourists to come,” Lobo said.

Edited by Anindita Ghosh and Amrita Das

Christina A. Kroll