The making of phumdi
SANGAI IS called the dancing deer. However, it is not the Sangai that dances, but the peculiar nature of its habitat that lends this trait. While treading through phumdi (grasslands that float on water), the Sangai's hooves sink in the spongy, moist ground which from a distance looks as if it is dancing.
According to Kh Shamungao, a retired professor of zoology and adviser to the Manipur State Board for Wildlife, the phumdi plays an important role in the ecological processes and functions of Loktak Lake, the habitat of the Sangai. "They support the rich biodiversity and govern the water quality and nutrient dynamics of the lake," he writes in Endangered Manipur Brow Antlered Deer: An Environmental Assessment.
The high proportion of humus matter in the phumdi gives it a low specific gravity and high buoyancy, causing it to float in a loose formation. The floating mass continues to accumulate more soil particles and humus which accelerates the growth of the plants. Depending on the composition of the plants, an 80-100 cm thick phumdi can hold the weight of an adult Sangai and a human being. A large patch of phumdi, 20 m long, 10 m broad and 2 m thick can easily support one small hut with four to five persons. During the dry months, the phumdi can settle at the bottom, and the rootlets of the vegetation can draw nutrients from the soil layer. Even during these months it retains its swampy nature.