Oceanic islands like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands bring to mind turquoise waters, and marine life like anemones and sea turtles, and mangroves with their roots akimbo. Those who have visited this Indian Ocean archipelago might conjure memories of sunset swims, sand flies, long cycle rides, local fish curry-rice, and coconut water. Little is known about the islands’ canopy, which shelters a wealth of bird life: swifts, cuckoos, pigeons, mynahs, and even hornbills. The rarest avian resident of the Andaman Islands is the Narcondam hornbill (Rhyticeros narcondami). About 1,000 of this endangered species live exclusively on the 6.82-sq-km island of Narcondam, the easternmost and most remote island of India. The closest landmass is over 100 km away. It was entirely uninhabited by humans until 1969 when the Indian government set up a police check-post there for defence reasons. Even today, the island’s human population is a rotating roster of 20 policemen, each of whom spend a month there. Narcondam is off-limits for travellers and civilians, and the only way to visit the island is for research with prior permission from the police.
Getting to the island is an adventure in and of itself, says wildlife photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee who visited it in March 2013: “After a long boat ride from North Andaman Island, we were transferred into an inflatable boat to approach the island. There is no jetty, only a rocky beach.” Inaccessibility is one of the reasons Narcondam has remained relatively untouched. The island has a thriving jungle habitat with sprawling fig trees, towering dipterocarps, a variety of birds, plus geckos, monitor lizards, and flying foxes.
(Watch a video of Dhritiman Mukherjee speak about his experience of photographing the rare bird here.)