The Mai Valley forests lie in the northeastern part of the country south of the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area. The Mai watershed falls entirely within Ilam district in Mechi Zone, extending from the confluence with the Kankai River at 70 m in the tropical zone to the Darjeeling border at 3050 m in the subalpine zone. Ilam (population 13,200), the main town in the district lies in the valley at 1210 m; the local economy focuses on tea and cardamom plantations. Delineating the area of remaining forests is difficult because of widespread forest losses, and forest degradation and fragmentation. Forests in the upper Mai valley lie mainly in the lower and upper temperate zones. Lower Mai valley forests comprise tropical and subtropical forests. They include a small but important remnant of tropical evergreen forest, a forest type that is currently not represented in the existing network of Nepal’s protected area. Subtropical semi-evergreen forests also occur. The most important forests for birds are the moist broadleaved oak Quercus and mixed broadleaved forests comprising Lithocarpus spp., Castanopsis spp. and Rhododendron spp. with a bamboo understorey and the tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests.
No up-to-date information is available on the habitats or birds of the Mai valley. The high total of around 300 species has been recorded for the whole of the Mai watershed, including over 200 species in the upper valley (Inskipp 1989a, Halliday and McKnight 1990, 1993, Choudhary 1997). The forests may be important for populations of the following restricted-range species: Rufous-throated Wren Babbler, Spiny Babbler and Hoary-throated Barwing. Several species recorded in the small remnant of tropical evergreen forest are either very rare in Nepal e.g. Asian Fairy Bluebird Irena puella or have only been found in this locality e.g. Pale-headed Woodpecker Gecinulus grantia. Lesser Adjutant and White-rumped Vulture are reported to breed at the edge of the forests. Up to at least the mid 1990s the area had large areas of temperate forest and a considerable area of tropical and subtropical moist forest that were known to support significant populations of characteristic species of the Sino-Himalayan Temperate Forest biome and the Sino-Himalayan Subtropical Forest and Indo-Chinese Tropical Moist Forest biomes respectively.
Non-bird biodiversity: Little information is available. The globally threatened Assam Macaque Macaca assamensis has been recorded. Other mammals seen include Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus, Common Leopard Panthera pardus, Golden Jackal Canis aureus, Leopard Cat Prionailurus bengalensis, Hanuman Langur Semnopithecus entellus, Black Giant Squirrel Ratufa bicolor, Indian Muntjac Muntiacus muntjak and Yellow-throated Marten Martes flavigula.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Mai valley forests are unprotected. They suffer from severe fragmentation and degradation through over-exploitation for fuelwood, fodder and bamboo and overgrazing by livestock (Inskipp 1989a, Halliday and McKnight 1990, 1993). Illegal logging is also taking place. Settlements of refugees from Bhutan have added to the already high pressure on forests. The forest areas are not being effectively managed although some forests are handed back to local people as community forests. It is likely that all forests will disappear from here within a decade if the forest destruction continues at the same rate. Alternative energy and poverty alleviation programmes together with conservation awareness are urgently needed in the area.