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Gibbon hope for conservationists

Jorhat, Jan. 24: A baby hoolock gibbon born to relocated parents in Arunachal Pradesh has sprung hope in the hearts of conservationists.

Ian Robinson, director of IFAW-Animal Rescue, said the news was “absolutely brilliant” and indicated successful relocation as successful conception and gestation, especially in primates, depends on favourable conditions in their environment.

The gibbon family, along with four others, had been relocated from Dello and Injino village areas to Mehao wildlife sanctuary, which is 20km away near Roing, the headquarters of Lower Dibang Valley district, in 2010 when their habitat had shrunk because of indiscriminate felling of trees for undertaking jhum cultivation.

The relocation was carried out under Mehao gibbon rescue project by the Arunachal Pradesh forest department and the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI). Robinson said during the initiation of the project they had identified breeding success as a crucial indicator of the successful rehabilitation of gibbons.

“This marks a milestone in our project,” said Ipra Mekola, a member of the State Advisory Wildlife Board, who oversees the project on the ground.

Named Ouiji, (meaning hope in the local Idu Mishmi dialect), the infant was photographed suckling its mother on Tuesday by IFAW-WTI primatologist Kuladeep Roy.

“It was born to the third family that was rescued and moved from Dello in February last year. The family was sighted moving about and feeding in a relaxed manner at the release site near Sally Lake in Mehao wildlife sanctuary,” he added.

The hoolock gibbon is listed as a Schedule I animal under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

A forest official in Lower Dibang Valley said Hoolock gibbons live in pairs and rarely come down to the ground.

They are extremely clumsy on the ground and easily fall prey to stray dogs and hunters.

So when a group of gibbons was seen raiding cornfields in Dello, it was perceived to be alarming as it indicated that they did not have sufficient food. A few of them were hunted down by dogs and human beings. Wildlife activists traced the cause to reduction in the number of trees in the area because of jhum cultivation.

Then the state forest department and the Wildlife Trust of India took the initiative to translocate the gibbons. Prior to the relocation, WTI researchers monitored the movement of the gibbons for over a year.

Shashanka Barbaruah, manager (communications), WTI, said about 15 hoolock gibbons were still stranded in scattered trees in the farmlands of Dello and needed to be relocated.

N.V.K. Ashraf, chief veterinarian, WTI, said they were preparing to capture more gibbon families in Dello in the coming months. “It’s always good to hear such news — it makes our effort more worthwhile,” he added.