The brow-antlered deer (scientific name, Cervus eldi eldi) once believed to be extinct, was rediscovered in the year 1953. It is found only in Manipur and is also called Sangai. The wetland habitat of the Sangai is protected as the Keibul Lamjao National Park. Despite being protected, the Sangai deer is an endangered species.
A fully-grown dark brown male Sangai has a crown of arc shaped antlers. Antlers are annually shed during June-July and within 20 to 30 days they start growing back and attain their full size in about six months. Antlers are absent in the female. The Sangai has a peculiar habit — of breaking its run to turn and wait for any onlooker. In Manipuri, Sangai translates to sa meaning animal and ngai meaning waiting for you.
The Sangai habitat is under threat from the Loktak Hydroelectric Power Project.
The former seasonal cycle of sinking and floating of dense aquatic grass (phumdis) has been disturbed. The phumdis would be at the bed of the lake during the dry season drawing nutrients from the earth and float during the rainy season. With enhanced nutrients, the plants, which included the Sangai’s food plants, would grow luxuriantly. But now the phumdis float all year round. A constant high water level is maintained in the lake and this has led to many changes, one of which is the rise in the water level in the Keibul Lamjao National Park during the rainy season. Manipur experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season. So, the Sangai’s home is constantly threatened. What happens during the rainy season is that the deer seeks shelter in isolated dry patches in the National Park and poachers lie in wait for such opportunity. Many times the deer drown.
People living around the Keibul Lamjao National Park along with NGOs have formed the Environmental Social Reformation and Sangai Protection Forum, in short called as ESRSPF.
In order to protect the animal from poachers, people living around the Keibul Lamjao National Park have formed local clubs and non-governmental organisations and together they form a collective body known as the Units of the ESRSPF are spread out all across the lake area. Volunteers organise awareness campaigns in surrounding villages focusing on the need to save the Sangai. They also work with forest officers to lookout for poachers and protect the deer.
An initiative the combines the efforts of villagers, forest officials, NGOs, and the state government will help the Sangai see brighter days.