Tree bridge ends 'divide and rule' for Assam gibbons

Tree bridge ends 'divide and rule' for Assam gibbons

United, at last

The tree canopy over the tracks allows animals to cross over easily. DH photo

Over 123 years after they were divided by a British-era rail track, a natural tree canopy has reunited hoolock gibbons in a sanctuary in Assam having the largest population of the only ape species found in India.

The natural canopy, result of a 13-year-long plantation and conservation effort by Aaranyak, a bio-diversity conservation group here is now being used by the gibbons in the compartment-I of Gibbons Wildlife Sanctuary near Jorhat town in eastern Assam with their counterparts in the compartment-II.

This was the result of the NGO’s Hoolock Gibbon Conservation Programme launched in 2004-2006 led by its primates expert, Dilip Chetri. “A series of plantation drives were carried around the sanctuary keeping in mind the long-term conservation of hoolock gibbons and other wildlife there.

The plantation drive was also carried out along the one-km railway track within the railway land with the help of local community. The different species of food and lodging plants of the gibbon were planted in 2006 on either side of the railway track. Our ultimate goal was to develop a natural canopy bridge,” said a statement issued by Aaranyak.

“Many of these planted trees were even felled by the railways annually. At last, at one point, a canopy bridge was formed. It took 13 long years for the bridge to come up. And as we expected, gibbons, capped langurs and squirrels are now using this bridge regularly. The “barrier” created by the railway line constructed by the British in 1887 has been overcome with this new path of connection. This canopy bridge has rejuvenated the process of reunion of gibbons in particular and other wildlife of compartments I and II,” it said.

The project was supported by the US Fish Wildlife Service under its Great Ape Conservation Fund.

Jorhat forest department personnel, railways, people living in the fringe villages and others helped the effort.

The success story assumes importance as hoolock gibbons are the only ape species found in India, and the entire troop numbering about 500 is confined to eastern Assam, Arunachal, Nagaland and Tripura.