Imphal: Union Minister Prakash Javedkar has said the Centre will extend all help to protect the brow antlered deer whose numbers in the entire world is just 204, according to a 2013 census.
Wildlife enthusiasts feel there is an encouraging ray of hope for the survival of the rare deer on the brink of imminent extinction.
The union minister for forest, environment and climate change made the announcement as he visited the 40 sq. km Keibul Lamjao National Park, the natural habitat of the brow antlered deer, locally known as Sangai, on Saturday shortly before leaving for Mizoram after a two-day visit to Manipur.
Javedkar said: "As per official information, there are now 90 stags, 86 hinds and 28 fawns. All assistance will be extended for the protection of this endangered species."
There is a slight increase in the deer numbers. There were 180 deer in 2000.
Asked if the Centre is thinking in terms of a project on the lines of Project Elephant or Project Rhino, Javedkar said: "Once we get a concrete proposal from the forest department in Manipur, we will chalk out the plan."
Referring to the Manipur government proposal to have the Loktak lake, the largest fresh water lake in eastern India, declared as the world heritage site, he said: "We welcome the plan. However, specific proposal should first come to the Centre."
Obliquely referring to localised objections from some sections of the fringe villages, Javedkar said: "The govenment plans are not against any village. We seek cooperation from all sections of people."
For generations, the Loktak lake has been the source of livelihood for the people of the fringe villages who catch fish, pluck edible plants, as also for other living beings.
From time to time budding politicians instigate the villagers to demand closure of the national park so that it could be converted to paddy fields.
In view of snatchings of firearms from officials in this insurgency afflicted state, the forest guards, deployed in the lake and the national park area, are not issued firearms.
There have been occasions when the frenzied villagers incinerated the personal effects of the skeleton staff of forest department in the national park. They were also manhandled and taunted.
Later, the government stemmed the tide by deploying some Manipur Rifles troopers there. However, the troopers were later recalled as the wildlife wing of the forest department could not pay for the troopers' deployment.
"As there is a shoe-string budget, we cannot erect a barbed wire fence, with the result that domesticated cattle enter the national park. In the process, they spead killer diseases among the deer," an official said.
"As fishing cannot be checked, hundreds of fishermen are daily entering the national park areas, which are part of the Loktak lake, in their country canoes. Some hardcore poachers get lost as they masquerade as fishermen," said wildlife lover Devika L.
"After slaughtering the deer, they come out with gunny sacks filled with venison. Tribal markets in Chandel and Churachandpur districts openly sell deer carcasses."
"The poachers had severed and secreted the heads with the tell-tale antlers and in Manipur the authority looks the other way despite frequent exposes in the local media," Devika L. added.
Minister Javadekar said the onerous task should not be left to the forest department of Manipur alone and the need is to associate all sections with the project.
"The Centre is shortly coming out with an action plan on the protection of the lake, the endangered deer and development of the national park. Since these will help develop eco-tourism we seek cooperation from all sections of the people," he said.