Monday, February 06, 2012

Shapi of Sikkim: Our legacy -iii

A Sikkimese with a Shapi
The two previous articles i wrote in my earlier edition on Shapi was a wonderful read for people around and appreciation had been received from different corner of the state. I am thankful and find a pleasure that people find joy in my findings and research work. It was a bit surprise that very few had heard about Shapi, our rare legacy. Nevertheless i am happy being part of history for re-introducing Shapi to those sections of my readers who had never heard about this old and sacred mountain mammal, native of Sikkim.
I dedicate my writing on Shapi to Ongden Daju (RO) who has been very supporting to me ever since i first published its first part few months back. It was he who wanted me to continue with the third part of Shapi, since more findings were evolving after my two writings.
I shall ever remain grateful towards JR Subba, Jt Director from Forest Department for providing me a valuable census report of Shapi done by the Department since 1996 to 2006. The sighting and estimated report of the Shapi submitted by ST Lachungpa, RO and his team in 2006 shows an increase in the population of Shapi (Hemitragus jemlahicus schaeferi).
Without doubt we can call Phimpu, the house of Shapi and this animal can be spotted with ease at Phimpu from October-December every year. From the mere 3 Shapis sighted in 1996 to the increased number of 34 numbers in 2004, 35 numbers in 2005 and 23 numbers in 2006, Shapis in Sikkim is estimated to be in hundred in the latest sightings.
Coming back to Ernst Schäfer, the discoverer of Shapi in Sikkim, an online article “The bird collections in the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin resulting from Ernst Schäfer's three expeditions to Tibet and Sikkim” published in 2010 written by Michael Abs, Pascal Eckhoff, Jürgen Fiebig and Sylke Frahnert in its abstract mentions “ From Schäfer's last expedition we inventoried 650 specimens of 58 species collected in Tibet from January to the end of June 1939, and 2700 specimens of 278 species collected in Sikkim in 1938 and the first half of 1939. Important collecting localities are Gangtok (939 specimens), Lachen (369 specimens), Gogong (300 specimens), Thanggu (259 specimens), Lhasa (133 specimens), Chuntang (103 specimens) and Xigaze (102 specimens).” The story of Shapi wasn’t alone that was imported to Germany after the expedition. There were these rare birds and other faunas of this part of the world that has been part of some German Museum.
The Life and Times of a Plantsman in the Sikkim Himalayas, a memoir by noted Plantsman KC Pradhan writes about his experience with Ernst Schäfer when he was at a trip to Germany in 1992 few months before the great discoverer passed away. Pradhan had ranged Ernst Schäfer but his wife took up the call, she was happy to hear from a person from Sikkim which was very dear to Schäfer. Ernst Schäfer was then in a bed rest with cardiac problem. A week later Pradhan again contacted Schäfer, this time he gets an opportunity to talk with him. The German explorer was glad to know him since he had known Pradhan’s father during his 1938 expedition. Ernst Schäfer informs Pradhan about 11 publications on the Sikkim Tibet Expedition 1938 in German in their short introduction. 
Pradhan in his book writes; Ernst Schäfer had a commanding and demanding voice and his memories very vivid. The Shapi area was supposed to be named after Ernst Schäfer but nothing further happened to the proposal cites Pradhan.
The book also finds referring a call from late Chogyal to Pradhan and informing about the intention of Ernst Schäfer to revisit North Sikkim in 1970 to do further study work on Shapi but Delhi had denied. It was Chogyal who thought it wise to declare the Shapi area as a Shapi Reserve thus Khangchendzonga National Park came into being with Phimphu as sanctum sanctorum. Till then the area was used by the defence force as firing range scaring the poor animal. The army was persuaded to shift their range to alternate site.
German Akay with Kaiser Bahadur Thapa
I would love to mention that there might have been many unsung heroes from Sikkim who had been part of this legendary German Expedition. Despite efforts only couple of names could be traced out. Anna Balakci- Denjongpa in her article “German Akay” published in Bulletin of Tibetology mentions the names of German Akay, Lazor and Kaiser Bahadur Thapa, the three Sikkimese people who was in the Expedition that lasted for 14 months and had an abrupt end due to start of the Second World War.
German Akay passed way in 2005 at the age of 90; he was Ernst Schäfer’s assistant and hunter at the Expedition. Lazor, a Lepcha from Tumin was a cook while Kaiser Bahadur Thapa played a role of an interpreter. Thapa was in touch with Ernst Schäfer till his death in 1992 while Thapa also passed away later in 2000. Mingma is the other name i came across from a photograph that was taken at Gangtok collecting insects for research.
The German Expedition of 1938 at Sikkim-Tibet brought Ernst Schäfer name and fame. Despite the odds about what had happened at the expedition, the land of Sikkim shall always remain grateful towards him for discovering Shapi which has had been our legacy since then.



  1. Shapi of Sikkim...

    Thank you for the excellent Interpreation.
    I have read your report with enthusiasm.
    Of course I am also pleased that the German Ernst Schaefer is the discoverer of Shapis.

  2. Thanks for the appreciation and the article was not possible without your help. I am sure in days to come too you shall help me in my study....


    Shital Pradhan


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