Birdwatching tourism or avitourism is a form of nature based ecotourism that deals to travel and tourism for observing and identifying birds in their natural habitats. It is one of the fastest growing outdoor activity around the world and particularly gaining popularity in developing countries. Birdwatchers are mostly conservation-minded responsible ecotourists, respect wildlife and natural habitats and have above average incomes1. As per economic assessment study the annual economic value of bird watching tourism industry in United States is around $107 billion and United Kingdom birdwatching expenditures are estimated at $500 million per year. Birdwatching tourism opens potential remote areas for birdwatchers and also provides economic motivation to local community for conservation of bird species and natural habitats.
Birdwatching tourism in Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve, China
Arunachal Pradesh is recognized as one of the 25 mega biodiversity hotspots of the world with the second highest breeding bird diversity in the world2. It is largest mountain state (83,743 km2) of North East Region of the country, having 80% forest cover and considerable area (around 11.82 % of geographical area of the state) under protected area network (PAN). There are 2 National Parks, 11 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 1 orchid sanctuary, 2 tiger reserves, 2 elephant reserves and 1 biosphere reserve in the state. The state has an exceptional richness in avian diversity, around 750 birds species have been recorded from the state (57 % of total avian species of country), making the state second highest avian diversity state in the country3,4. There are 25 notified Important Bird Areas (IBA) in the state. Arunachal Pradesh is not fully explored in ornithological perspective and holds great potential for new bird species discoveries5. Some new bird Species such as Himalayan Forest Thrush (Zoothera salimalii), Bugun Liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) and new subspecies of the Sclater’s monal (Lophophorus sclateri arunachalensis) have recently been recorded from the state. Diverse landscapes and varied climatic conditions also offer suitable habitats of various migratory birds viz. Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis), Ruddy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), Spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), Anas Spp. Arunachal Pradesh has the highest diversity of hornbills in the country, as it is home to five different species (out of 9 species recorded from India) namely Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis), Wreathed Hornbill (Rhyticeros undulates), White-throated Brown Hornbill (Anorrhinus austeni) and Oriental Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris). Rich and unique bird diversity of state makes it a very idle destination of birdwatchers. Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary (454 avifauna), Namdapha National Parks (491 avifauna), Pakke Tiger Reserve (282 avifauna), Mouling National Park (114 avifauna), Dehang Dibang Biosphere Reserve (153 avifauna), Tawang area (113 avifauna) and Talle Valley Wildlife Sanctuary (130 avifauna) are some of the potential birdwatching areas of the state.
Migratory Rudy Shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea) at Shungaster lake, Tawang
Author has recently participated in a regional workshop on harnessing potential on birdwatching ecotourism under Landscape Initiative for the Far-Eastern Himalayas (HI-LIFE) project organized by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal in Baihualing village of Yunnan, China and observed that villagers of Baihualing have successfully promoted the birdwatching tourism. Now this village has become a popular destination for international and national birdwatchers due to its close proximity to Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve (GNNR) and the rich diversity of bird species. The local community are directly getting livelihood benefits from homestay operation, food, transport, bird watching ponds & hides, bird guide services and selling of local products and souvenir. They are also actively involved in various bird and nature conservation activities.
Considering the rich diversity of birds and presence of important bird areas in Arunachal Pradesh, there is ample opportunity for development of birdwatching tourism in the state therefore such community driven birdwatching ecotourism initiative needs to be implemented in the state. This will provide alternative livelihood opportunity to local community and will also reduce pressure on the forest and natural resources and ultimately help in conservation of biodiversity. It could also be one of the climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy for this climate change sensitive Himalayan state6. At present, Bugun community is involved in birdwatching tourism activity in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary of the state but, there is huge potential for development of birdwatching tourism sector in the other areas of state. Collaborative actions and wider partnership of all stake holders mainly forest and tourism departments, research institutions, researchers, non government organization (NGO), tourism sector organizations and community are urgently need to harness the birdwatching tourism potential of the state. Capacity building and awareness creation among local community are other important priority areas for sustainable development of community based birdwatching tourism in Arunachal Pradesh.
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