IMPHAL, July 21 � The game of polo in its birth place Manipur is likely to vanish in the near future unless urgent steps are taken to conserve Manipuri polo ponies.
Higher death rate than birth rate due to food poisoning and disappearance of grazing grounds besides lack of investment are leading to an alarming decline in the population of the Manipuri ponies.
�We have lost around 50 ponies last year due to food poisoning. Now, the Manipuri pony population has declined to 400,� said Ningthoukhongjam Ibungochoubi, secretary of Manipur Pony Society (MPS).
Experts have categorised Manipur ponies as �Critically endangered� species due to its low population, he said.
The first polo game is believed to have been played at Mapal Kangjeibung or Polo ground in the heart of Imphal town. The oldest known Polo club was the Cachar Club founded in Assam in 1859. The oldest surviving Polo club, of course, is the Calcutta Polo Club formed in 1862.
�But today, disappearance of grazing grounds and playgrounds have hit the life of ponies�, Ibungochoubi added. �The game of polo will be just history once the animal vanishes.�
�We have also lost many ponies in the past due to smuggling to Myanmar and Nagaland for using the animal in transportation activities�, according to S Bimol, an international Polo player.
Considering the vulnerability of the animal, MPS with the support of Chief Minister O Ibobi, has started to utilise a green site of NIT at Lamphelpat wetland near Imphal measuring around 360 acres, temporary settler home to more than 150 ponies.
Meanwhile, the MPS has been inviting the pony owners of the State, who earn their livelihood from agriculture and allied activities, to send their ponies for open grazing.
�Rearing a pony is not easy because of the absence of grazing fields,� L Ojit, secretary of Khurai Polo Club of Imphal East district, which has won all the four polo tournaments this year, said. �The time has come to save the animal. Once the pony is safe, we can think of developing play grounds�, he added.
Ojit has been spending around Rs 5000-Rs 10,000 a month for their practice session at Tentha ground in Thoubal district due to lack of playgrounds in Imphal. Besides routine check-ups, a pony needs a bag of grass worth around Rs 100 every day. Many pony owners are forced to shell out Rs 500 as fine to municipality officials when ponies come out on the streets of Imphal in search of food and are detained.