The Assam government has issued a preliminary notification to grant wildlife sanctuary status to Behali reserve forest. A wildlife sanctuary is granted after the final notification is issued. 

Behali Reserved Forest (BRF), declared in 1917, is the last remaining semi-evergreen forest in 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 have shrunk to only 60 sq km due to illegal encroachment and deforestation.

Nature lovers, wildlife activists have been fighting a long battle urging the government to declare Behali reserve forest as a wildlife sanctuary.

The Assam government, through a gazette notification issued on March 9 and published on May 4, said, “The Governor of Assam hereby appoints the Deputy Commissioner of Biswanath District to act as a Collector under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, to inquire into and determine the existence, nature and extent of rights of any person in or over the land comprised within the limits described in the Schedule.”

“We are trying to protect the last pristine forest of Biswanath since six years. Today we are glad for the decision taken by Assam government within a very short period of time. During this journey, many people helped us to reach this goal, specially Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chief Minister, Assam, and MLA of Behali constituency Ranjit Dutta who took the immediate steps, PCCF M.K. Yadava and Arun Vignesh, DFO Sonitpur East Division,” Ranjit Kakati, research scholar at Gauhati University, told EastMojo

He said Behali wants its complete protection. “We have also some other demands after the declaration of Behali Wildlife Sanctuary such as restoration of degraded habitats within Behali, protection of all the threatened species and establishment of a wildlife research institute in Behali,” he added. 

“It is definitely a sense of relief to hear the news of release of the preliminary notification of Behali WLS. What we really want is protection of the forest and its wildlife at any cost. Merely declaring it won’t be enough; with less forest staff, unclear boundaries, illegal doings, and without alternative ways of income of the marginal communities the problems would be the same after 100 years. The final notification should be published as soon as possible and a clear connection should be provided to Pakke Tiger Reserve through Papum reserve forest and to Kaziranga National Park through Buroi and Borgang riversides for the wildlife to migrate,” Dipankar Borah, assistant professor at Goalpara College, told EastMojo. 

“Behali is the only forest in Assam with three new plants for science and one of it is critically endangered and found no where else. It is also the refuge to the dwindling population of endangered sub-species of Capped Langurs, Bengal Slow Loris and Asian Elephants. With extreme habitat heterogenity Behali stands among the important forests throughout Assam. And in this present scenario, the extreme heat, drought and epidemics, forests will the only thing to save humanity from doom,” Borah added.

Local youths and wildlife researchers with active NGOs have been creating mass awareness among the people and are also trying to attract the attention of the stakeholders and policy makers 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 a wildlife sanctuary.

“I think the decision comes at a crucial time. The territorial integrity of Behali Reserve Forest was seriously questioned from the illegal occupants in the recent time. The designation of Wildlife Sanctuary will further help to protect the rich flora and fauna of Behali Reserve Forest,” Rupam Bhujel, Research Scholar, Gauhati University, told EastMojo

“We appreciate the state government for initiating the process of designating Behali Reserved Forest as a Wildlife Sanctuary. This was an extremely important decision. This forest’s biodiversity cannot be expressed in a few words. We hope that this decision will put an end to the problems that the forest is facing (illegal encroachment, logging, poaching, and so on) and safeguard its biodiversity. We hope that this decision will assist to establish this forest as a tourism attraction for birding, butterfly watching, and other activities,” said Nilim Kumar Saikia from WildHeart Foundation. 

Keshob Jyoti Borah, research scholar at Gauhati University, said it is a great step that has lifted the spirit of every wildlife enthusiast.

 “We are hopeful for improvement in the protection of the wildlife as well as decreases in encroachment. The Behali Wildlife Sanctuary will definitely uplift the natural harmony in the area from a common man’s perspective,” he said.

Niku Das, an MSc student at Rajiv Gandhi University rued that despite being a reserve forest, the Behali has minimal infrastructure, protection and manpower. 

“When upgraded to Wildlife Sanctuary, it should now get better infrastructure as well as more manpower, which in turn will help out the forest to better protect its inhabitants in terms of conservation,” he said.

 “We are very pleased by the action of the government. If this forest was not conserved or upgraded, then this last remaining forest of Biswanath would definitely have gone as the other forests,” he said.

Debarun Talukdar from WildHeart Foundation said the government’s decision to declare Behali reserve as a wildlife sanctuary is truly commendable in its promise to protect wildlife and work for safeguarding nature.

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