Camera trapping carried out in different farming systems across Darjeeling-Sikkim Himalaya landscape offers new insights into the mammalian communities residing within this landscape. The presence of one Critically Endangered, three Vulnerable and four Near Threatened species in two major farming systems i.e. Tea Cultivation and Agro-ecosystem speak volumes in terms of their conservation potential. Mammals outside protected areas have often been subjected to anthropogenic threats, directly - hunting, retaliatory attacks and from feral animals among others - or indirectly – through habitat fragmentation, human population growth and our ever increasing resource demand. Thus, the need to assess these farming systems and the mammalian community present is paramount to check the viability of these farming systems as refuges for biodiversity.
We recorded the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), a Critically Endangered species, in the Tea Estates in sites of Darjeeling and Terrace Rice Cultivation areas in Sikkim. Given that, according to previous studies, the home ranges of this species vary from 0.66 - 0.96 km for males, 0.143 - 0.303 km for females and 5-6 km away from the resident burrow for foraging, these sites have high potential for conservation of the Chinese Pangolin provided it should be a community initiative spearheaded and supported by the local communities themselves.
Besides the Chinese Pangolin, these farming systems also support the Common Leopard (Panthera pardus), Asiatic Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus) and the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa) falling under Vulnerable category in the IUCN Red List. The presence of Near Threatened mammals such as the Himalayan Goral (Naemorhedus goral), Gaur (Bos gaurus), Malayan Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor) and Terai Grey Langur (Semnopithecus hector) also confirms the conservation value of these farming systems as wildlife friendly farming systems given the added benefit of the landscape with complex topography with minimal agriculture machinery.
Although most species found in these farming systems are residents, some such as Gaur or Indian Bison use a part of the landscape as a corridor which is equally important. The presence of arboreal mammals such as the Malayan Giant Squirrel and the Terai Grey Langur also indicates healthy forest patches within these systems. The ecological role of some of the species as keystone species and their role in maintaining the ecosystem should be taken into consideration before any management plans for relocating them from these spaces is put forward. This is keeping in mind that most human-wildlife conflict arises out of livestock and crop depredation by some of these species present in the landscape. Compensatory mechanisms such as monetary incentives for improved livestock management, loss compensation, insurance for loss and deterrent physical mechanisms could be some ways of mitigating the conflict. Ecological measures like habitat restoration, habitat improvement and preventing habitat
degradation have to also be put in place.