Its not any day that one begins in a crowded city like Bangalore and sleeps the night in Arunachal Pradesh! And its even rarer to sleep the same night in a wildlife sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh! One day in September, I reached Guwahati by 11 in the morning after a two and a half hour flight and then travelled on a four-wheeler to Tezpur, then on to Seijosa to finally reach the Pakke Jungle camp at about 10 pm. This camp is run by Help Tourism and the local Ghora Aabhe Society, and is supported by the Forest Department and the Nature Conservation Foundation. I stayed in a modest bamboo house on stilts and slipped into a restful sleep with the lullaby-hum of a river closeby.
The morning in Pakke began with the familiar calls of the hyperactive Great Barbets. The cicadas too were already calling tirelessly and the swifts were collecting their breakfast from a mid-air buffet. It had rained all night and the morning seem to begin only lazily, but finally at about 7 am the sun did pierce through the clouds. With all this happening, the feeling that I was indeed in Arunachal was still only slowly seeping in.
Aparajita Datta was travelling to the Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary for a meeting of the Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme and I had accompanied her. The programme, initiated in January 2012, aims to protect hornbill nests around Pakke by forming a unique collaboration between the Nature Conservation Foundation, Nyishi tribal headsmen from villages around the Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary who identify and protect nests, the State Forest Department and urban citizens who fund the programme. In the meeting, a summary of the 2012-13 programme success was provided, the next years activities were discussed and the nest protectors were gifted t-shirts with a Great Hornbill embroidery. It was heartening to see that the local Nyishi protectors were also taking lot of interest in the initiative. Below they all got together for a group photo. The first photo was a serious one and then the old man in the bottom right wearing the hornbill t-shirt said something funny and everybody laughed!
In the evening it was time to see the hornbills! We visited the Kameng river and were treated to a view of twin rainbows with the sanctuary in the background.
The other side of the river was beautiful too, it was a collage of clouds.
Just before sunset one can catch a glimpse of Wreathed Hornbills flying to their roost sites for the night. While we waited there for about 45 minutes we saw more than 15 hornbills, some in pairs and some in groups of three or more crossing the Kameng river to reach their roost sites.
Interestingly the hornbills roost in the night at the edge of the sanctuary where deforestation is relatively high and where they are also vulnerable to hunting by the locals. But for now, it seemed like the hornbills were safe due to the efforts of the Forest Department spearheaded by the Divisional Forest Officer Tana Tapi. Mr. Tana Tapi has been awarded several awards such as the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award 2010, the Earth Hero Award, 2010 and the WWF-Bagh Mitra award, 2011 for his efforts in Pakke. The day ended with an acute sense of hope for the hornbills in Pakke owing to the relentless efforts of the likes of Tana Tapi, Aparajita Datta and others at Pakke.