Guwahati: A reserve forest in Assam known for its biodiversity, which has been crying for the status of a wildlife sanctuary, is also home to many archaeological relics. Behali Reserve Forest in Biswanath district of Assam is not only known for its biodiversity but is also a storehouse of many archaeological relics that provide its merit of historicity.

Behali Reserved Forest (BRF) declared in 1917 is the last remaining semi-evergreen forest in the Biswanath district of Assam. Home to around 950 species, it has been demanding status for a wildlife sanctuary. Initially, with a total geographical area of about 140 sq km, the dense patches in the reserved forest are now shrunk to only 60 sq km due to illegal encroachment and deforestation. 

study published in Zoo’sPrint says sculptured palaces, tanks, stone boundary walls, among others, can be seen dispersed till now.

The most attractive historical ruin, Maidam Pukhuri, unaccounted for several decades, is also located in the natural territory of BRF; findings there include a tank built between the early 9th to 14th centuries and stone bound borders covering an area of 0.26 ha that remain to this date.

Also, a rampart named Rajgarh is one of the many garhs which runs through the BRF, built by the Ahom king Swargadeo Singha.

The most attractive historical ruin, Maidam Pukhuri, unaccounted for several decades, is also located in the natural territory of BRF; findings there include a tank built between the early 9th to 14th centuries and stone bound borders covering an area of 0.26 ha that remain to this date.

“A heritage that not only evokes legends among the locals but also seeks protection as a part of the scattered rich history of the region,” the study says.

Dr Nityananda Gogoi, former principal of Biswanath College in a book ‘A Handbook of Behali Reserved Forest’ says, “The ruins of an ancient town of about 14th century AD have been found. This town was believed to have been built by the Boro-Barahi kings.”

It is the only forest in Assam where three new plants were discovered for science: Chlorophytum assamicumAristolochia assamica, and Peliosanthes macrophylla var. Assamensis and the latter two are so far only located in this forest.

The reserve forest is a refuge to one of the threatened fauna: White-winged Duck, Bengal Slow Loris, Capped Langur and hornbills. These species face severe threats in almost the whole world and losing this forest would result in a serious decline of its population.

Dipankar Borah, Assistant Professor at Goalpara College and one of the main authors told EastMojo, “If this forest is not provided immediate attention and protection, home for more than 950 species will be lost. The importance of this forest in hosting this large sum of biodiversity as well as providing an umbrella for the eco-conscious ethnic communities is a serious matter to look up.”

He further says: “The present forest is the last patch of forest in the district which provides ecosystem services such as maintaining water cycle, nutrient cycle, carbon storage, and oxygen requirement, apart from hosting the threatened and local biodiversity. Losing this will seriously hamper all the necessities of neighbouring inhabitants and threaten their lives.”

Local youth and some researchers with the active NGO are trying their best to create mass awareness among the people and control the felonious activities to some extent. These enthusiasts have been trying to tackle the problem with continuous efforts of repeated surveys, proper documentation and are also trying to grab the attention of the stakeholders and policymakers through publishing research articles, sensitizing the local people and creating a citizens’ movement.

Senior forest officials and local MLAs have visited the area recently and have assured the civil society of taking steps to declare the reserve forest as a wildlife sanctuary.

“With increased awareness on the importance of this habitat and role of the existing biodiversity, there is a chance to save this last forest of the district and its wildlife from being completely perished in a few decades. The initiatives have to be put into action now since we are already very late, if not too late, to salvage the remaining area of the forest from devastation,” the study says.

“Encroachment of land, burning of forests, and hunting of wildlife can still be seen in the border areas of the reserve, which is a very serious concern that brings into question the survival of the forest for more than the next five years. Almost 48% is lost, as a result, only 60 sq km of the intact forest is left of the original notified area of 140 sq km,” Dipankar says.



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