Saturday, September 03, 2011

Shapi of Sikkim: Our legacy - ii

It was my good fortune to have visited the Forest Department Office at Deorali this summer and meet officials out there. I shall remain appreciative towards Ongden Daju (RO) for an occasion to bring in contact with higher officials of the Forest Department. Apart from the reason of my presence in the Forest Department Office I was in mind that I would have some valuable information about Shapi, a topic that was hovering around with me for some time now.  I was very pleased with the excitement of people’s face when they went through couple of photographs and a video of Shapi from the Schaefer Expedition.
I was taken to the ENVIS office by Ongden Daju where I came across Rajen Pradhan, Sr. Programme Officer (ENVIS) who was kind enough to share with issues of PANDA magazine, issued by the Forest Department, Government of Sikkim for my personal collections. My wondering heart was more than pleased to find two separate articles published on the PANDA magazine in 1993 and in 1994.

The 1993 issue of PANDA magazine has an article on Shapi written by C Lachungpa, SFS. In the article C Lachungpa talks about his experience with Shapi in two separate expeditions of 1977 and 1982. The first expedition “Operation Trap Demolition” under his leadership took place in September 1977 that had more than 50 members including ROs, BOs, FGs, Constables and porters. On 16th September at the steep slope of River Kanaka towards Kuthang, North Sikkim, at the distance of 50 metres two dark coated animals was spotted on the banks of the thorny Rubus bushes. Lachungpa in his words describes the animals as “they looked as big as mature ponies with long manes on the neck and broad based thick beards tapering at the ends. The horns were strange and curled.” Lachungpa was later on told by Zongpo Lepcha, an old guide that those animals were none other than the rare Shapi. During that expedition twenty-eight Shapi including male, female and sub adult were reported by C Lachungpa.
In 1982, Sikkim’s first Shapi Expedition took place that was headed by C Lachungpa himself. On the morning of December 14, the team of C Lachungpa came across twenty nine Shapi grazing along the rocks and steep hills at Fimchu, the very site where Ernst Schaefer had first documented this rare animal some four decades back. Lachungpa puts in writing the whistle-call made by a Shapi that sounded like phik-phik while moving towards the hillocks that was later one followed by rest of the flock.
The writing also says C Lachungpa was the first government officials to have seen and photographed the exotic Shapi in Sikkim after Ernst Schaefer’s finding.

Despite the fact most of the Eastern Himalayas faunas had been discovered in late 19th century but the late discovery of Shapi could be due to fact that it is one of the scared animals known so far. It is a taboo animal of the Lepchas and had always remained hidden from exposure. The other reason could be that these mammals survive around inaccessible areas that include high mountain cliffs far beyond the motorable roads. The other animal to share the habitats with Shapi are Goral (Nemorhaedus goral) and Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis)
The Shapi of Sikkim is distributed alongside Fimphu, Manandang, Rahichhu and also in Kuthang Valley in North Sikkim. Shapi sighting had also been reported from Nimphu (North Sikkim), Aralungchok and Gomnay North, East Sikkim.
Gut Lepcha, Field Director, KNP in his article on “The Shapi, Our Rarest Animal” published in 1994 issue of PANDA writes that Pohla (1944) had designated the Shapi of Sikkim to be a new sub species of Himalayan Tahr from Sikkim based on minor differences in pelage colour and horn shape. While Haltenorth and Trense (1956) and Charles (1057) believed that all Tahr belong to the same species.
Gut Lepcha was part of 1991 photography and videography expedition where he came across 6 individual Shapi in Satdharey (Rahichu) and 5 individual Shapi in Lingjibok.
Despite Sikkim being the home for many exotic floras and fauna, Shapi does find its place among the rarest of animals to be found in the state. Far from the madding crowd Shapi had remained silent and it should not be disturbed. It has been our legacy and should be regarded as our state heritage treasure as well.