A group of 1427 conservationists, scientists, academicians, film-makers, artists, students, allied professionals and concerned citizens have wholeheartedly welcome the dynamic step taken by the cabinet to upgrade the status of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to that of a National Park. Moreover, an appeal has been made to direct the attention of the state government to upgrade the protection of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve as well.
Since 1994, various organizations, activists and serving/retired forest officials had been demanding for the status of National Park for an estimated area of 500 sq. Km. Their efforts seemed to bear some fruits when the Dehing Patkai was declared to be a wildlife sanctuary on June 13, 2004. But to the utter dismay of the activists,the said sanctuary covered only an area of 111.19 sq. km, leaving off many areas that were initially proposed. It proved to be a major concern pertaining to the conservation threats along with increasingly fragmented habitats, poaching and human-wildlife conflicts.
Sprawling over an estimated area of 937 sq.km, Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve is the largest rainforest in the country. Also referred to as ‘Amazon of the East’, its biodiversity is as rich and unique as that of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary which comprises only 111.19 square kilometre of the entire elephant reserve.
Research studies conducted by Dr. Kashmira Kakati through camera trapping reveal the presence of seven species of wild cats in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve (DPER) landscape, which is the highest diversity of wild cats yet found in a single area. This includes Schedule-I and Endangered species such as the tiger Panthera tigris and other rare and vulnerable carnivore species such as the clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa, Asiatic golden cat Catopuma temminckii and marbled cat Pardofelis marmorata. Malayan sun bear Helarctos malayanus is a bear species found in Dehing-Patkai, which is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List (Kakati 2012).
DPER has species that are of great cultural values to the citizens of Assam, namely the Hollong Dipterocarpus macrocarpus (state tree), fox-tail orchid Rhyncostylis retusa (state flower) and the white-winged duck (state bird). As per many photographic and videographic observations white winged wood duck (listed Endangered by IUCN Red List) with its population showing a decreasing trend, has been found in areas outside the vicinity of Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary.
Inferred from various ground research and findings, the Jeypore Reserve Forest, Upper Dehing (West) Reserve Forest and Upper Dehing (East) Reserve Forest, Dirak 1st division, Dilli Reserve Forest, Kakojaan Reserve Forest need immediate protection along with Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. Therefore they should be considered to be a part of the National Park as well. It is to be noted here that the Jeypore, Upper Dehing and Dirak –are the only contiguous RFs of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve and the rest have been reduced into fragmented forest areas due to unabated anthropogenic activities.
Also fragmented forests like Tarani Reserve Forest, Tokuani Reserve Forest, Buridehing Reserve Forest and Kotha Reserve Forest can be converted into buffer zones. Upgradation of Saleki Proposed Reserve forest to Reserve forest and measures for protection and restoration of Lekhapani, Tirap and Tinkopani Reserve forest should be majorly considered.
Since only 12% of the forest out of 937 sq km area of DPER is protected, illegal activities like tree felling, poaching, encroachment, rat hole mining, etc. Has been going on in the remaining unprotected forestscapes. The status of National Park would ensure the protection and preservation of the remaining patch of pristine forest from its further degradation.
“It is the need of the hour to save Dehing Patkai region (a very lowland rainforest) also referred as Amazon of the East, because it has witnessed many illegal activities such as rampant deforestation, coal mining, encroachment, etc. Leading to habitat fragmentation and a rise in human-wildlife conflicts. We have and will always stand up for these issues. At present our campaign “I am Dehing Patkai” is getting nation wide recognition. We request everyone to come together in this issue otherwise our heritage will be lost”. #iamdehingpatkai #protectmetoo” as stated by Mr. Trinayan Gogoi, Green Bud Society.
Also, the areas outside the wildlife sanctuary holds a viable population of arboreal primate species, the Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and the Bengal Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) which are classified as Endangered (IUCN Redlist) and Schedule-I species (Indian WildLife (Protection) Act, 1972), respectively. In order to ensure the population viability of such species, it’s very important to ensure their safety and protection. Further, the forest department’s assurance to protect the areas that would fall under ‘the conservation area’ is highly required, which also means strengthening the forest department by allocating more trained and well equipped staff.
Studies by Assam Agriculture University, Jorhat and Life Sciences Division, Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology have clearly mentioned that non forest activities have serious health as well as livelihood implications in the fringe area of the forests. Moreover, a large section of people residing in the local villages like Laika Rikobi, Laika Fasidia, Laika Pomua and Dodhiya, inside the Dibru Saikhowa National Park have been stripped off all government benefits. It is The result of lack of a proper survey before the finalization of boundaries of the National Park.
A proper scientific assessment(which should incorporate experts) should be done along with public consultations with the local people in and around Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and the reserve forests mentioned above. Public hearing is very essential for the proper demarcation and in upgrading the protection of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve.
The recent youth uprising involving students, artists, musicians, lawyers, researchers and environmental activists who collectively stood by the campaign and participated through posters, art, poems, music and online sessions against the illegal coal mining in Saleki Proposed Reserve forest. The movement was all about protecting the last remaining stretch of (lowland) rainforest of Assam.
Renowned music composer from Assam, Mr. Joi Barua has remarked on the Dehing Patkai issue, “I realised my thought had to translate into speech and action. If our ecosystem, trees, the habitat and the wildlife are at risk- what are we left with? As an artist, I began to think – where is literature and poetry going to spring from? Where will fables originate? Where will the folk music be taking its inspiration from? As people, what do we fall back on to? Just barren land from where all of nature’s bounty has been pluntered due to man’s greed?”
The environmentalists and other concerned citizens are quite hopeful that the government will understand their demand and will do their best to extend protection to a wider area of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. The wildlife exploitation and extensive deforestation are driving the rise in many zoonotic diseases in the recent times (the novel corona virus being one of the instances). Hence, it will be very welcoming to see the government take an exemplary step to fight for Assam’s last remaining stretch of rainforest.