Cervus eldii. Eld’s deer. Thamin deer. Brow-antlered deer. Sangai. Dancing deer. A whole lot of names for a single species, but that’s how it is for this unusual deer, a graceful animal which is found only in one state of India- Manipur. A highly endangered species, the brow-antlered deer is found exclusively in a small area which stretches across the extreme north-eastern corner of India; Myanmar and part of Thailand. In India, the place to see this beautiful creature is the Keibul Lamjao National Park.
Keibul Lamjao is famous not just because of the brow-antlered deer; its other claim to fame is the fact that this is one of the very few `floating’ protected areas in the world.Approximately 50 km from the state capital, Imphal, Keibul Lamjao lies on an island on the fringes of the Loktak Lake.
Gazetted a sanctuary in 1969, Keibul Lamjao officially became a national park in 1977. It today stretches over an area of about 40 sq km, surrounded by marshes, hillocks, and the lake itself. A number of streams too crisscross Keibul Lamjao, which, combined with extensive marshes, make the park a typical wetland. The Loktak Lake, which is really what the park is all about, is covered almost completely by floating mats of the dense aquatic grass known locally as `phum'. Other wild grasses, including a variety of wild rice, form the bulk of the vegetation, which supports an astoundingly large and diverse fauna.
The most prominent- if not the most easily spotted- of Keibul Lamjao's many denizens is the brow-antlered `sangai' deer. A much-loved creature in Manipuri folklore and dance tradition (so much so that it's even known as the `dancing deer'), the sangai had been reported extinct in 1951, but after being re-discovered, has finally become Keibul Lamjao's prime attraction. Other animals in the park include otter, civet, wild boar and hog deer, besides a number of small reed-dwelling birds. The Loktak Lake is home to a large piscine population.
Best time to visit
The winter and spring- approximately October to February- is the best time to visit Keibul Lamjao. Visits are possible up to May too, although it may be a trifle too hot for some people, and the lake shrinks by almost a third because of evaporation in the summer heat.
Beyond May, heavy monsoon showers hit Loktak, making visits here extremely difficult.