Assam with the highest diversity of non-human primate species in the country has added another feather to its cap with primatologists spotting the Eastern Hoolock Gibbon in three reserve forests in the state.
A team, led by primatologist Dilip Chetry of a prominent conservation group ‘Aaranyak’, with the support of the state forest department conducted the survey and spotted the endangered primate in three reserve forests in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district.
Mr. Chetry pointed out that before the survey was undertaken, the Northeast harboured 11 species with Assam being home to nine of them, but with the spotting of Eastern Hoolock Gibbon this has increased to 10.
Assam thus is the state with the highest diversity of primates in the country.
The Gibbon survey was conducted in six reserve forests at Sadiya range in the district, but the Eastern Hoolock Gibbon was spotted in 23 groups only in three reserve forests of Hallowgaon, Kukurmara and Kundil Kolia on the north bank of river Lohit, he said.
The absence of the primate in the other three reserve forests confirmed the harsh reality that the gibbon population has been already wiped out from Deopani Reserve forest, North and west Block of Sadiya range of forests.
Forest loss and fragmentation due to expansion of agricultural activity such as ginger and mustard cultivation, encroachment by human settlement and illegal felling of trees as the most discernible factors posing grave threat to survival of gibbon in the area, Mr. Chetry said.
The primatologist also expressed concern over alleged unabated encroachment on forest areas by neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh that has resulted in conversion of more than 4000 hectares of forest land into agricultural field.
He also expressed concern over the inadequate manpower strength of the forest department in Sadiya range with only eight forest personnel patrolling the entire forest cover of the subdivision and no camp inside the forest area.
A number of threats like habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation and alteration, hunting etc. have been identified for species, but the primary threat is definitely the loss of natural habitat.
Mr. Chetry pointed out the need for a detailed strategy action plan for the future conservation of the species in the Sadiya region with Kundil Kolia Reserve Forest as a potential conservation site for the species.
“This being the sole population of the species in the state, the Kundil Kolia Reserve Forest can be upgraded to a wildlife sanctuary for the conservation of eastern hoolock gibbon,” he said.
Hoolock Gibbon is the only species of ape to be found in India and the evergreen and semi—evergreen forests of the seven states of Northeast serving as the natural habitats of this endangered species.
Assam also has the distinction of being the only state with a wildlife sanctuary —— Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary at Jorhat —— devoted for the conservation of a primate species, Mr. Chetry said.