27 Nov 2023

Worrisome Decline In Endangered Sangai Deer Population in Manipur: Wildlife Institute of India

The Sangai, also known as the brow-antlered deer, is an exclusive and rare species exclusively located in Manipur's Keibul Lamjao National Park (KLNP). The declining population of this species has raised concerns among environmentalists, earning it an 'endangered' status on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List.

Efforts led by WII to prevent its extinction may not be yielding expected results

Efforts led by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to prevent its extinction may not be yielding the expected results, as recent data indicates a worrisome trend. WII revealed that the mean estimated population, which was 90 individuals in 2006, has declined to 76 in 2019 and further dwindled to 64 in 2023. The decline rate, which was 1% per annum in 2019, has accelerated to 1.9% per annum in 2023.

Professionals involved in population recovery efforts note that the Sangai population was 91 in 2006, 88 in 2007, 92 in 2008, 76 in 2019, and 64 in 2023. This decline is particularly alarming because the species' essential effective population size is currently at 7.5, dangerously close to the threshold for inbreeding depression, as stated by Mirza.

To minimize inbreeding depression, a recommended effective population size of 100 is suggested, and for long-term survival, a recommended effective population size of 1000 is advised. Compounding the issue, the Sangai's distinctive floating habitat, traditionally known as 'fumdi,' comprising mats of dirt, vegetation, and organic matter, is diminishing.

Despite a positive shift in their population's northward distribution between 2017 and 2021 due to improved "fumdi" dispersal, the majority of Sangai now reside in the northern region of KLNP. The scientists attribute this population decline to various human-induced factors, including competition from the increasing hog deer populations and the impact of the Ithai barrage, which optimally utilizes water from Loktak Lake, designated as a Ramsar site since 1990.

The Sangai is much loved and revered by the people of Manipur and it symbolises a sacred link between human and the spirit of nature.

Sangai is one of the three sub-species of Eld’s deer found in South and South East Asia. It has adapted itself to a unique habitat of the floating meadows or phumdi at KLNP, a mark difference from the other two sub species. Once distributed throughout the Manipur State, Sangai is now restricted to the 40 sq km area park making it vulnerable to extinction. 


The following threats still prevail that could prove highly detrimental for its survival.

Single, isolated and small population

Highly inbred and low genetic diversity

Highly specialized and restricted habitat

High anthropogenic pressure in terms of biomass extraction

Change in vegetation composition of the Park

Lack of space and connectivity for recolonisation

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