Red Army threat to red panda

Guwahati, Nov. 21: The red panda could lose out in the country's efforts to keep the Red Army at bay.

The Arunachal Pradesh forest department has cleared a proposal to divert 110.46 hectares of forest land for military infrastructure development at a place called Naga grazing ground under Dirang circle of West Kameng district, a habitat of the red panda, located close to the Sino-Indian border.

The forest advisory committee under the Union ministry of environment and forests will take the final call at a meeting in Delhi on November 26-27. The red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and as endangered species in the IUCN Red List.

The regional chief conservator of forests in the ministry in his recommendation report says both the divisional forest officer of Bomdila and the chief conservator of forest, western circle, Banderdewa, have recommended the proposal despite the presence of red panda in the area. It states that the proposal has been recommended by the state government considering the national security .

The report says there are rare and endangered species of rhododendrons and dead/dying Abies pindrow trees, which are unique to the ecosystem. The area has also been declared an important bird area by Birdlife International.

The report recommends that in case the ministry accepts the forest diversion proposal, old trees/fallen trees/hollow trunks should not be removed. It says the entire forest area is at a high altitude zone and can be termed an eco-fragile area.

The Bomdila forest division's recommendation report appreciates that the area is close to the Sino-Indian border and the setting up of military cantonment or base area is essential but it emphasises that the area is ecologically sensitive and a habitat of the red panda, so there should be minimum disturbance to it and the army authorities should strive to preserve the natural state of the area like "wild gardens".

The divisional forest officer of Bomdila forest division, P.M. Tripathi, told The Telegraph, "There has been sighting of the red panda in the area and the final decision on the fate of the project will be taken by the Centre."

Two years ago, villagers in West Kameng district had formed a red panda conservation alliance to protect it.