The small but efficient Manipuri pony may soon be declared an endangered species like the brow - antlered deer. Both these animals are found only in Manipur.
"In the livestock census conducted in 2012, the population of this pony was found to be 1, 100 only, " Veterinary Minister Govindas Konthoujam said.
N. Tombiraj, secretary general of the Manipur Polo Society, told IANS that the population of the pony is fast decreasing.
"Apart from the dwindling spaces of the grazing grounds resulting from rapid urbanisation, the semi - wild pony is not kept at home but let loose. Many of them are seen in the town streets, mostly eating hotel and house garbage stuffed in plastic bags. As such, they are susceptible to deadly diseases and road accidents, " Tombiraj said.
Polo players herd the ponies from the grazing fields only at the time of tournaments.
Tombiraj said: "Manipur's pony is 10 hands high whereas the horses in other parts are as high as 14 hands. Intensive research is being done on the pony in India and abroad. "
The Manipur government had sanctioned Rs. two crore some years ago for a pony farm at Tingkhai Khunnou in Senapati district. Five veterinarians and other workers were posted there.
However, officials said the farm was as good as closed down now.
Tombiraj is worried, saying that once the ponies become extinct the polo game which is Manipur's gift to the world will suffer.
Manipuri players have so far been world champions in almost all polo tournaments.
Veterinary Minister Konthoujam said the Manipur government is going ahead with a project to preserve the pony.
"Seventy acres of land has been set aside at Heingang in Imphal east district for setting up a pony sanctuary. A proposal for the sanctuary that will cost Rs. 78 crore has been sent to the central government, " he said.
The state government has drafted a comprehensive Manipur state pony policy, the minister said.
That's easier said than done.
Local people have been objecting to the plan to convert paddy fields to a pony sanctuary and the government has yet to address the issue.
In the past, the pony had a considerable population. Each man was a soldier in the days of kings in Manipur. He trained himself as a cavalryman and any time he could be conscripted for war with neighbouring kingdoms. In those days, a royal army consisted of foot soldiers and the cavalry.
There was then no problem of shrinking grazing grounds.
Intelligent, sturdy and fast running ponies helped Manipuri warriors win many wars against neighbouring kingdoms.
Officials and polo lovers say that they are in full agreement with minister Konthoujam and that unless something is done even at this late hour, the Manipuri pony may soon become extinct.
(Iboyaima Laithangbam can be contacted on imphalreport@gmail. com)