Guwahati: The 67th Wildlife Week kicked off in Assam with a colourful elephant procession at Assam State Zoo and Botanical Garden in Guwahati on Saturday.

Assam Minister for Environment and Forest Parimal Suklabaidya flagged off the procession after hasti poojan from the zoo premises.

The minister and senior forest department officials took part in the elephant procession comprising children, women and forest personnel holding placards on the need for protection of forest to save wildlife and stop killing of elephants.

The minister also inaugurated an ecological museum renovated under NMHS Him – National Learning Centre, Assam, and Assam State Biodiversity Board in the presence of PCCF and HoFF, PCCF (Wildlife) and other senior officials of the forest department.

Speaking on the occasion, Suklabaidya asked the forest department officials to “spread the message of love for wildlife and the environment” as a whole among people to boost conservation in a big way.

Suklabaidya said the message regarding the importance of creating awareness on conservation of wildlife and nature has to be generated to bring about a change in mindset “as our existence hinges on it”.

“We have to carry the message how important it is to protect our flora and fauna, the rich biodiversity to maintain ecological balance. Otherwise, our very existence and that of the coming generations will be at stake,” he said.

The minister also urged the people to come forward to help protect the environment “as the government alone cannot do it”.

“A forest workforce of less than a lakh in numbers cannot do alone to protect the environment, so vital for our survival, if a populace of over three crore in our state also pitch in and contribute toward conservation efforts initiated by the forest department,” he added.

Appreciating the forest officials and personnel for the conservation of wildlife and forests, Suklabaidya said, “The Assam State Zoo has made remarkable turnaround with more and more visitors coming to the zoo. About one million people visit the zoo annually. The animals are happy and healthy, thanks to the care and affection showered on them by the zoo keepers and other forest personnel. All this augurs well for the state zoo in the days to come.”

The minister also felicitated those who adopted animals and urged those who can afford to come forward for the good cause.

Speaking on the occasion, PCCF (Wildlife), Amit Sahai, in his welcome address, said that many programmes have been chalked out for the week-long celebrations with each day marked for a certain animal.

“We will celebrate the Wildlife Week in a befitting manner by observing Elephant Day, Hollock Gibbon Day, Turtle Day, Dolphin Day and so on to create awareness on these animals and their habitats,” he said.

Sahai said due to the conservation efforts, some endangered animals have been brought back from the verge of extinction. “Due to the breeding programme, some endangered animals have been brought back from the brink of extinction and released into the wild,” he said.

Commenting on the man-elephant conflict, Sahai said that is due to shrinkage in habitats of pachyderm following encroachment. He urged everyone to live and let live in complete communion with animals.

In his address, principal secretary, environment and forest, Avinash Joshi said the state zoo is one of the best in the country with beautiful natural settings. He asked the zoo authorities to open up trekking to the hill top for public.

“We can open up trekking for the public to the hill top, half of the day, and set up small camps, so that they can spend time in the lap of nature,” he said.

Joshi said there is no dearth of fund for making the zoo more prominent and attractive.

Assam can be turned into an attractive tourist destination if the Forest and Tourism departments work in tandem to utilise the state’s vast potential to the optimum level, he added.

He also urged the people of the state to visit the newly-created Dehing Patkai and Raimona National Parks and help promote tourism in a big way.

Joshi also stressed upon the need to make concerted efforts to make tourists who make Guwahati as a transit to visit Meghalaya and Tezpur to Arunachal Pradesh to stay in Assam to enjoy its pristine beauty.

“Assam has potential and promises galore and during the post COVID-19 situation, we can bring about major transformation to make Assam a tourist hub,” he quipped.

A little over 20-minute movie on the Assam State Zoo-cum-Botanical Garden was screened on the occasion. The movie, directed by Rupankar Bhattacharjee, is a joint collaboration of Help Earth and Assam State Zoo.

The inaugural function was attended, among others, by PCCF and HoFF, Alaka Bhargava, Additional PCCFs, Paban Kumar Agarwal, Satyen Singh and Somen Mohapatra, DFO, Assam State Zoo, Dr. Ashwini Kumar.

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