GUWAHATI, March 22 - In a development that exposes how little is known of the hidden and varied wildlife of Dima Hasao district, a ‘white’ deer – an extremely rare occurrence anywhere in the country – was sighted for the first time in the North East on Monday. Unfortunately, the deer – snow-white in appearance – was killed and its skin and some body parts were recovered later in the day.
The Dima Hasao forest authorities said that it was an albino barking deer. Over the past century or so, there have been only a few authenticated sightings of albino white deer. Albinism is characterised by the absence of the melanin pigment, resulting in white body with pink limbs, snout, ears and red eyes. This particular specimen, however, was almost entirely white.
“It is an albino barking deer, an extremely rare occurrence, and marks the first such occurrence in the North East. It is very sad that the animal was killed. The killers need to be given exemplary punishment,” noted conservationist Dr Choudhury told The Assam Tribune.
A Haflong-based forest official said that the skin and four leg bones were seized on Monday and two persons, including the killer, arrested.
“This is the first time we have seen an albino deer in the district or for that matter, in the entire North East. The killing took place near Zion, a remote forest village. The arrested poachers will be strictly dealt with under the Wildlife (Protection) Act,” the official said.
The developments expose the rampant killing of wildlife by a section of the local populace for food and traditional medicines, as also a growing racket of poachers which sells animal skins, meat and other body parts for money.
“Some forest-dwelling tribes here hunt traditionally for meat. But the situation has worsened drastically, with many forming part of the nefarious poaching racket that sells animal skins, meat and other body parts. This has led to a flourishing racket in illegal trade in wildlife. While the tribes need alternative livelihood and an overall dose of development for reducing their dependence on forests, the authorities need to crack down hard on the racket behind the wildlife trade,” a Haflong-based conservationist said.
Forests cover over 80 per cent of Dima Hasao, making it Assam’s greenest district, yet little is known about its faunal and floral diversity because this invaluable natural wealth still awaits exploration, assessment and documentation.
Despite its large forest cover, Dima Hasao, does not yet have a single protected forest (i.e., wildlife sanctuary or national park). This is also having an adverse bearing on conservation, as varied wildlife is being hunted, poached and plundered with impunity with little intervention forthcoming from the government authorities.
This is also in sharp contrast to the early conservation initiatives by British ornithologists in Dima Hasao way back in the 19th century when Allan Octavian Hume, the pioneer of Indian ornithology (remembered more as one of the founders of the Indian National Congress), explored the pristine forests of the area.
“Hume who is the father of Indian ornithology was posted in Haflong as a British officer and as an avid bird watcher he explored the lofty mountainous jungles there. The house where he resided is still there and it is worth a heritage status,” Dr Choudhury said.
Another well-known ornithologist Stuart Baker – then a British police officer at Haflong – also did some documentation of Haflong’s avi-fauna.