Villagers in crusade to save golden langurs - Bongaigaon hamlet shows the way in joint forestry management programme

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By TERESA REHMAN
  • Published 23.05.04
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Kakoijana (Bongaigaon), May 23: A small village of largely illiterate and impoverished tribals is scripting one of the success stories of the joint forestry management scheme, relying more on people power than the might of money to achieve its aim.

The Golden Langur Protection Force, comprising residents of Bogoriguri village near the Kakoijana forest reserve in Assam’s Bongaigaon district, was constituted at the initiative of J.U. Ahmed, range officer of the Bongaigaon social forestry range. The organisation has since done more to save one of the world’s rarest primates from extinction than NGOs with better profiles.

Ahmed, however, keeps reminding everyone that the battle is far from won. “Unless radical measures — elevating the forest reserve to the status of a wildlife sanctuary is one — the world will lose one of its most exotic primate species forever.”

Located between the Sonkosh and Manas rivers, Kakoijana forest reserve is one of the few remaining habitats of the golden langur (presbytisgeei), which is listed in the category of “rare species” in the Red Data Book of International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The animal has not been spotted anywhere except the Himalayan foothills along the Assam-Bhutan border. Over the years, denudation of forests for timber and agriculture has shrunk the golden langur’s only habitat and left it vulnerable to poaching and various other dangers.

“In their original habitat, their normal diet was supplemented by a large variety of fruit-bearing trees. In a disturbed habitat, they depend on alternative sources of food, resulting in a conflict with the human population. At present, there are just over 250 golden langurs in the 1,710-hectare forest,” Ahmed said.

Members of the Golden Langur Protection Force have been distributing saplings and seedlings of fruit-bearing trees like guava, mango and jamun among villagers to make up for the loss of greenery and the endangered animal’s sources of food. “We have been urging people to grow these trees in the adjoining hills so that the primates do not have to leave their habitat,” Ramesh Rabha, who leads the conservation brigade, said.

Next on the agenda is an awareness campaign to make schoolchildren realise how precious the golden langur is and teach them what needs to be done to save the species. “Golden langurs are often killed by dogs and run over by vehicles when they stray into human habitation in search of food. At Kakoijana, golden langurs subsist mainly on bamboo shoot,” Ahmed said.