Funeral pyre of the gibbon lit in presence of locals Credit: EastMojo image

Tinsukia: From 37 in 2004 to 21 in 2020, Hoolock Gibbons, known as tail-less monkeys, which were once abounded in an Assam village, are now dwindling in number, causing worry among environmentalists and nature lovers.

On Tuesday, a 20-year old female Gibbon was the latest one to die in Barekuri – a cluster of village where hoolock gibbon has indeed coexisted peacefully with human beings for over a hundred years – in Tinsukia district. Her funeral was attended by several villagers, including kids, and the funeral pyre was lit by one among the villagers.

Funeral pyre lit in presence of the villagers

According to a doctor from Wildlife Trust of India, the liver and lungs of the Gibbon were damaged. “However, the exact cause of death will be known only once the post mortem report is out,” the doctor added.

Dipumoni Moran, a resident of Puroni Motapung village is feeling grieve stricken. “Bobby (nickname of Gibbon) was like a family member. She used to come in our backyard every now and then, and eat bananas when I said Aah, aah! Kol khabo aah (come, eat some bananas),” Moran added in a broken down tone.

Moran said, in the beginning of this month we lost one of Bobby’s baby. “I and other villagers feel the pollution from Baghjan blowout can be one of the probable reason behind the baby Gibbon’s death. Many in our village are suddenly falling sick, repeated headaches have become common ever since the blowout occurred. We can hear the blowout noise distinctly even today. There are minor shakes that give us an earthquake-like feel. Initially, when the oil spilt with the gas, it fell on the trees and other natural habitat all across our village and who knows the Hoolock Gibbons might have fed themselves with such harmful ingredients.”

“Before we could come over the pain, we lost Bobby. A day before her death, she had stopped eating and was sitting very silently at one place,” Moran said, adding, “Doctors have said her liver has been damaged. We won’t be shocked if pollution from Baghjan is found to be the reason behind the death. We have lost many cows and goats in our surrounding villages.”

Bobby is survived by a 3-year-old baby.

Barekuri eco-development committee president Diplov Chutia said that the Hoolock Gibbon family at Barekuri area is in critical condition. “Governments apathy is one of the reasons behind the dwindling numbers of Gibbon which has attracted so many foreign tourists for years now.”

“A day before Bobby’s death, a veterinary doctor from WTI came responding to the villagers call. We were told that they will again come next day, catch the Gibbon, and start its treatment. Alas… It was delayed. Bobby is no more,” said Chutia, adding that the Assam government and forest department failed to conduct regular medical camps for the primate apes.

“Earlier, many Gibbon died due to electrocution. Now, pollution from OIL is threatening them,” Chutia said, adding, “In 2018, the electricity department announced covering of the overhead cable which claimed lives of over half dozen Gibbons in a decade, but the contractor has so far only completed 30% of the job.”

Chutia said, respective governments have failed to do anything concrete for the conservation of Hoolock Gibbon, an endangered species, in Barekuri – once a safe home to both humans and Hoolock Gibbons.

Also Read: TERI, IIT Guwahati, NEIST Jorhat accessing Baghjan OIL blowout impact: Centre

Hoolock Gibbons and the forests of Northeast India

The forests of Northeast India, known for the rich biodiversity, supports the largest diversity of primates in India, including the only apes found in the country, the Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and the eastern Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys).

Accordingly to sources, the western hoolock gibbon has a much wider range, as it is found in all the states of Northeast, restricted between the south of the Brahmaputra river and east of the Dibang river. Outside India, it is found in eastern Bangladesh and north-west Myanmar. While, the eastern hoolock gibbon is found in specific pockets of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India, southern China and north-east region of Myanmar.

According to WWF India, a charitable trust established in 1969, with long and slender arms, hoolock gibbons are swift creatures, barely needing to step on the ground. They swing from tree to tree in a mode of locomotion known as ‘Brachiation’, and can brachiate at speeds upto 55 km/hour, covering upto six meters in just one swing. Their diet comprises mainly of fruits, but they sometimes also consume leaves, shoots and flowers.

According to WWF: “Males and females are of similar size but can be differentiated easily by the colouration of their dense hair. Males are black with a distinctive white brow, while females are copper-tan with dark brown hair on the sides of their face, and a clear central parting in the head hair. They form monogamous pairs that remain together for years, though mating outside the pair has been noticed in some individuals. Hoolocks are famous for their emotive call that echoes across long distances in the forest and is used by individuals to attract mates. Females give birth to one offspring every 2-3 years, and it remains within the family group for 7-10 years.”

“Populations of western hoolock gibbons have declined by almost 90% over the last 30 years, and it is now considered to be one of the most endangered 25 primate species in the world. In India, it is listed on Schedule 1 of the Indian (Wildlife) Protection Act 1972. Enhancing protection for the species, the Government of Assam upgraded the status of the Hoollongapar Reserve Forest in the Jorhat District of Assam to a Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in 1997, making this the first Protected Area ever named after a primate species,” a report by WWF-India said

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