Guwahati: Around 17 years ago, budding wildlife photographer Udayan Borthakur found himself face to face with a full-grown leopard inside the Hoollongapar Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam’s Jorhat district. Mesmerised by the beauty of the magnificent beast, he forgot to click any picture of the feline.
Today, Borthakur is recognised as one of the foremost wildlife photographers from the region. Also being the founder head of media production and communication division of Aaranyak, a leading wildlife NGO working all over the eastern Himalayas, when he had to choose a topic for the maiden wildlife documentary for the division, he decided to revisit Hoollongapar.
“Being born and brought up in Jorhat, I share a special bond with Hoollongapar. My love for nature and wildlife started from there. When I was in College, I used to visit the forest regularly for photography and other adventure. So, there was a nostalgic reason to choose Hoollongapar as the subject of our first wildlife documentary. However, we also wanted to raise awareness about the issues faced by the forest today and a documentary is a very good medium to do that” said Borthakur, who handled the direction, editing and photography for the project.
Borthakur has also collaborated for the script with Munmita Baruah and Mitrajit Deb.
A joint collaboration of the media production and communication division of Aaranyak and Assam State Biodiversity Board, Legends of Hollongapar looks at this unique forest inhabited by seven different primate species. This is the only wildlife sanctuary in India with endangered Hoolock Gibbon as the flagship species for conservation.
Other primate species found in the forest are Capped Langur, Stump-tailed Macaque, Northern Pig-tailed Macaque, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque and Slow Loris apart from other mammals like elephant, leopard, barking deer, wild pig, civet, Chinese Pangolin etc. The fact that Hoollongapar is also home to 230 species of birds, 200 species of butterflies and 95 species of spiders add to its charm.
However, apart from its splendid array of bio-diversity, the forest also has its fair share of problems which has been highlighted in the documentary. Borthakur says, “There is serious shortage of manpower in the wildlife sanctuary. Barring one or two camps near the gate, most of the camps remain mostly empty. Also, the forest guards have to serve the tourists visiting the forest which hampers their regular patrolling duty. Youth from villagers can be engaged as guide for the visitors. In this way, they get employment and the forest guards will have more time to patrol the forest.”
He mentions that the makers spoke to forest officials and villagers living in the fringe of the forest and included their bytes to present a more balanced narrative.
There are other problems like the habitat of hoolock gibbon being compartmentalised because of a railway line passing through the forest. “Gibbons generally don’t come down on ground and move by jumping from one tree to another. So when their habitat becomes compartmentalised, it cuts them off from their mates in other parts of the forest. This affects their genetics,” explains Borthakur.
Apart from the habitat destruction, trains also often become the reason behind the death of wild animals.
The 33-minute-long film will have its India premiere at the 2nd South Asian Short Film Festival starting from March 18. It will have its world premiere at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival to be held at New York from October 17-27.