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Trees for Hornbills™

Phek, Nagaland, India

Available for Adoption upto: 60,000 Trees

Project Purpose
Trees for Forests™ & Wildlife

Location

In FY 2024-25,  60,000 trees will be planted in Phek district of Nagaland covering the two villages of Thetsumi and Pholami.

Aim

Enhancement of

Biodiversity

Carbon Sequestration

Promotion of

Ecotourism

Increase in

Green Cover

Providing Fodder

for Livestock

Generation of

Rural Employment

Conservation of

Water Table

Improvement of

Wildlife Habitats

 

Why trees?

 

Dating back to the Neogene period (23 million–2 million years back)(1) this magnificent old world bird species is one of the most captivating bird species in the world. Renowned for their strikingly large bills, vibrant plumage, and unique courtship rituals, these birds hold a special place in the hearts of nature enthusiasts and ornithologists alike. Around the world, 62 species of Hornbills have been recorded,(2) primarily residing in the tropical regions of Asia and Africa, Hornbills are the only birds with the first two neck vertebrae fused,(3) an adaptation to support their hefty beaks and the casque, a helmet-shaped structure with various functions.

In India, a total of 9 species of hornbills are found, of which Nagaland is home to 5 species. (4) these include the Oriental Pied hornbill, Rufous-necked hornbill, Wreathed hornbill, Brown hornbill and Great hornbill, except for the Oriental Pied Hornbill, which is of least concern; all others are tagged vulnerable, with the brown hornbill tagged as near threatened due to its decreasing numbers, according to the IUCN (International union for conservation of nature) (5)

     

Hornbills are large birds that nest in tree cavities and have an omnivorous diet primarily consisting of fruits. Due to their size, they require dense forests with large trees and diverse plant species for feeding and nesting. However, the forest conditions in Nagaland have deteriorated over the years. The IUCN lists the great hornbill as vulnerable, citing the logging of large trees as a major factor contributing to the species' decline.(6)

Another reason for this decline is the traditional practice of shifting cultivation (Jhum cultivation), where vast patches of forest land are cleared for crop cultivation. This practice has significantly impacted hornbill habitats, leading to a scarcity of large trees for nesting. (8) According to the Indian State of Forest Report (2021) prepared by the Forest Survey of India, Nagaland recorded a 235-square-kilometer decline in forest cover from 2019 to 2021. (9) Deforestation and encroachment into their natural habitats have greatly reduced the available nesting and foraging areas for Hornbills. Additionally, hunting and illegal wildlife trade pose a serious threat to their survival. They are often targeted for their beaks, feathers, and other body parts, which are used in traditional practices and believed to have cultural and medicinal values. C L John, Minister of Environment, Forestry& Climate Change, Government of Nagaland, said in December 2023 that the "hornbill is on the brink of extinction due to loss of habitat and hunting”. (7)

Hornbills are magnificent birds measuring 90 to 130 cm in length with a wingspan of up to 5 feet. (10) Known for their monogamous nature, they typically mate for life. During nesting, the female hornbill seals herself inside a tree cavity using mud and her own droppings, ensuring protection from predators. The male hornbill then provides food through a small slit, showcasing their dedicated parenting practices. They tend to use the same nest every year, (11) Dr Aparajita Dutta, Scientist, Nature conservation foundation, & Co-chair (Asia) “Hornbills are large mobile birds that move over large areas, for their population to sustain and grow, they need expansive forested landscapes, and forests limited to the confines of just [protected areas] won’t suffice".(7)

Nagaland is a state known for its hornbill festival. To avoid the irony of losing its hornbill population, it is imperative to implement robust conservation efforts. In this context, our restoration project, 'Trees for Hornbills™,' is a pivotal initiative focused on addressing the urgent need to support hornbill populations. By planting trees that provide essential nesting cavities and abundant fruit sources, we create a conducive environment for Hornbills to thrive. These efforts are designed to counteract habitat loss and ensure the availability of large trees necessary for their nesting. Additionally, by enhancing the forest cover, we promote a sustainable ecosystem that supports hornbill feeding habits, crucial for their survival and reproduction. This project not only aims to revive the hornbill population but also ensures that these majestic birds continue to play their vital role in seed dispersal and maintaining forest biodiversity. As a result, 'Trees for Hornbills™' can be an instrumental in safeguarding the future of Hornbills in Nagaland, reinforcing the region's ecological health, and preserving its cultural heritage.

 

Tree Species

Selecting appropriate tree species is crucial for conservation efforts aimed at protecting and increasing the hornbill population in Nagaland. By focusing on both nesting and feeding requirements, and by planting a combination of these trees, we can create a conducive environment for Hornbills to thrive. This strategy not only helps restore hornbill populations but also supports the overall health of the forest ecosystem. Given that this project is in a temperate region, the tree species selected differ from those typically found in the tropics where Hornbills usually thrive.

The tree species selected for this project are:

Oak (Quercus variabilis & Quercus serrata): These two magnificent plant species, belonging to the same genus, can grow up to 90 feet tall, providing ideal nesting sites for Hornbills. Oaks, in the genus Quercus of the Fagaceae family (beech family), constitute a significant group of forest trees and occupy a substantial area in the Himalayas. There are 16 species of oaks in India, with ten found in the eastern Himalayas and six in the western Himalayas. (12) Additionally, the fruits of the oak tree are favoured by Hornbills and other birds alike.

Chestnut (Castanea sativa): Chestnut trees can live for over a thousand years and grow to heights of 30 to 35 meters, with trunk diameters reaching up to 12 meters. As they age, like some oaks, chestnut trees often lose their heartwood—the inner part of the trunk that rots—forming hollow areas. These natural cavities, crevices, and decaying wood provide shelter for many species, (13) making chestnuts perfect for Hornbills. Additionally, the large, sweet fruits of the chestnut tree are an excellent food source for Hornbills.

Black Cherry (Prunus serotina): Prunus serotina is a pioneer species, capable of quickly occupying landscapes in need of reforestation. The fruits of this tree are highly favoured by humans, Hornbills, and other bird species. It is a moderately long-lived tree, with known ages of up to 258 years, though it is prone to storm damage, with branches breaking easily. This natural breakage creates crevices, making it an ideal nesting site for birds like Hornbills.(14)

Tamarillo (Solanum betaceum): Rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, the primary purpose of planting this tree is its large, fleshy fruits. It is a fast-growing tree that can reach up to 5 meters in height and begins producing fruit in less than four years. (15)

 

Social Impact and Economic impact

Hornbill is an integral part of tourism in Nagaland, The Hornbill Festival in Nagaland plays a crucial role in tourism and significantly boosts the state's economy. According to the Chief Minister, during the presentation of the 2021-22 State Budget, a modest investment of a few crores in the festival generates an economic impact of nearly 100 crores. (18)  Hornbills fearing extinction from the state can severely affect the Hornbill festival of Nagaland, hence this effort to revive hornbill population in the state is crucial from an economic point of view as well.

Hornbills, known as the “farmers of the forest,” play a crucial role in dispersing hundreds of fruit tree species in the forests. (16) Their presence indicates that the forest is not only prosperous but also balanced, which is why Hornbills are considered "indicator species." The positive side of the "Trees for Hornbills™" project is that the Hornbills will help expand their habitat, contributing to the overall health and sustainability of the forest ecosystem.

The entire Phek district in Nagaland falls within a very high damage zone for wind and cyclonic activity, (17) affecting both humans and wildlife. Trees play a crucial role in mitigating disasters such as flash floods and water shortages by acting as natural sponges, absorbing excess rainwater, and stabilizing soil to prevent erosion and landslides. They regulate water flow, replenish groundwater, and retain soil moisture, reducing the risk of water shortages during dry periods. As trees mature, their environmental impact increases, with each tree capable of absorbing approximately 20 kg of CO2 per year. This significantly contributes to disaster mitigation and ensures a sustainable water supply for communities.

The people of Thetsumi and Pholami villages in Phek district, Nagaland, are involved in Mithun rearing for economic purposes. Mithun, also known as "Bos frontalis" or the "Indian Bison," is a semi-domesticated bovine species that requires primary forest for its habitat. Recognized as a sign of wealth and worshipped by the villagers, Mithuns play a crucial role in the local economy and culture.(20)

This tree plantation project also aims to benefit these Mithun-rearing villages by providing additional livelihood opportunities through the cultivation of fruit trees. Planting trees will support Mithun conservation efforts by enhancing their natural habitat through reforestation. Moreover, the presence of Mithuns also contributes to environmental sustainability. Their natural grazing behaviours stimulate plant growth and enhance soil health, promoting new vegetation that captures CO2 through photosynthesis. (19) Additionally, their waste adds organic matter and nutrients to the soil, improving fertility and supporting robust plant root systems. As they graze, their hooves aerate the soil, enhancing its structure and water retention. By integrating tree planting with Mithun rearing, this project not only supports the local economy but also strengthens ecological resilience, contributing to disaster mitigation and a sustainable environment for future generations.

 

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hornbill#:~:text=In%20the%20Neogene%20(at%20least,is%20similar%20to%20modern%20Tockus.
  2. https://www.naturalhistorycuriosities.com/birds/hornbill-species-of-the-world-update-2020/
  3. https://www.saczoo.org/abyssinian-ground-hornbill#:~:text=Hornbills%20are%20the%20only%20birds,and%20the%20atlas)%20fused%20together.
  4. https://india.mongabay.com/2023/01/nagalands-first-bird-count-event-spells-hope-for-bird-and-wildlife-documentation-in-the-state/#:~:text=Nagaland%20is%20home%20to%20five,by%20Aparajita%20Datta%2FWikimedia%20Commons.
  5. https://www.iucn.org/, https://www.natureinfocus.in/animals/the-Hornbills-of-india
  6. https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/illegal-logging-mafia-stripping-hornbill-habitat-in-northeast-india/
  7. https://nagalandpage.com/run-for-hornbill-held-in-dimapur/
  8. https://nehu.ac.in/public/uploads/NEHU_JOURNAL_Vol_XVII-69-78.pdf
  9. https://morungexpress.com/nagaland-reports-235-sq-km-loss-in-forest-cover-isfr-2021#google_vignette
  10. https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/birds/great-hornbill/
  11. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/malaysia/articles/hornbill-11-facts-about-malaysias-national-bird#:~:text=To%20support%20their%20heavy%20bills,the%20only%20birds%20with%20eyelashes
  12. https://ifsa.net/oaks-of-india-regeneration-management/
  13. https://biodiversity.com.pt/biogallery/old-chestnut-trees-are-a-haven-for-biodiversity/
  14. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/54834-Prunus-serotina
  15. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/280909-Solanum-betaceum
  16. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/378678145_Hornbills_Farmers_of_the_Forest
  17. Https://nsdma.nagaland.gov.in/sites/default/files/2021-05/Phek%20DDMP.pdf
  18. https://morungexpress.com/hornbill-festival-among-nagalands-biggest-intellectual-properties
  19. https://www.ndtv.com/science/170-bison-herd-could-offset-co2-equal-to-2-million-cars-study-finds-5674007
  20. https://dst.nagaland.gov.in/activities/biotechnology-hub-life-science-division/Mithun.html

 

 

 

 

 

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