Kakoijana reserve forest

Guwahati: Villagers staying adjacent to Kakoijana reserve forest in Assam’s Bongaigaon district have opposed the state government’s decision to earmark the area as a wildlife sanctuary as they believe it will take away their rights.

The forest is home to the golden langur (Trachypithecus geei), characterised by its striking golden orange pelage and found only in Assam and Bhutan, which is listed in the “world’s 25 most-endangered primates”.

The Assam forest department had recently issued a preliminary notification for 19.85 sq km Kakoijana Bamuni Hill Wildlife Sanctuary under Aie Valley Division.

A total of 34 villages with a population of around 2,000 households stay adjacent to the reserve forest. The people are mostly from Koch Rajbongshi, Boro, Garo, Rabha and Gorkha communities.

“We consider some of the areas inside the forest as sacred and its sanctity should be maintained. The joint forest management committee in the surrounding villages are doing a good job in protecting the forest and have an intricate relation with the forest,” the villagers said in a memorandum.

Villagers of Bogoriguri Rabhapara say they have been protecting and conserving the flora and fauna of Kakoijana reserve forest for more than 25 years.

“Our dedication and sincere effort to revive the reserve forest have yielded positive results in restoring the forest canopy from less than 5 per cent to over 70 per cent and the golden langur population from less than 100 to more than 600 during the period,” they said in a memorandum.

Golden langur is an endangered primate, endemic to the semi-evergreen and mixed-deciduous forests along India-Bhutan border. It was found in 1953 by naturalist E.P. Gee. Kakoijana is one of the prime habitats of the golden langur. It has already been listed as an endangered species in the IUCN Red List and is in the Schedule-I species of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

The villagers said the imposition of rigid laws under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 by upgrading the Kakoijana reserve forest as a wildlife sanctuary would tinker with the customary and traditional practices, and consequently result in them losing the community ownership over the forest.

“Such a decision would not only ruin our credibility but also revert the conservation process,” they pleaded.

The villagers have requested the government to drop the idea of a wildlife sanctuary and instead convert the reserved forest into a Community Forest Resources (CFR) using Forest Rights Act to ensure community co-managed system of participation for sustainable conservation.

“We are with the indigenous communities residing around the Kakoijana Reserve Forest and respect their rights as per the Forest Rights Act. Since they have been conserving and protecting the flora and fauna of the forest for the past many years, they want the forest to remain as community forest resources instead of converting it into a sanctuary. We support the stand of the communities,” Tejesh Tripathy, president of Nature’s Foster, Bongaigaon, told EastMojo.

Nature’s Foster is a non-governmental organization that has been working in Kakoijana reserve forest for nearly 25 years.

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