We are in need of attracting the attention of the government, people, NGOs and environmental enthusiasts to save this last left forest from peril. To do this, we are in need of your help, by publishing this below attached article in your esteemed platform.
The last forest of Biswanath, Assam in peril: demanding urgent attention
Behali Reserve Forest declared in 1917 is one of the last left semi-evergreen forests in the Biswanath district of Assam, India. Initially with a total geographical area of about 140 km2, this reserve forest is now shrunk to only 80 km2 due to illegal encroachment and deforestation. This forest once connected the Pakke and Nameri Tiger reserve in the east through Pabhoi RF to Singlijan, Gohpur, Dullung and Kakoi in the west, creating a freeway for migration of the endangered elephants and other wildlife. However, this long belt of forests is now severely fragmented, leaving a few intact, others diminishing into huge agricultural landscapes. Remaining unexplored for nearly a century, the Behali reserve forest has now produced wonders. With the active involvement of some local researchers, around 290 plant species, 49 mammals, 280 birds, 23 snakes, 11 turtles, 11 lizards, 12 amphibians, and 241 species of butterflies inhabiting this reserve forest are reported. This region has been neglected for decades in research and exploratory scientific activities, but in recent years, three new plant species including several interesting records have been found hidden in the forest.
The richness of this small forest patch can be gauged from the fact that it is inhabited by some of the endangered, vulnerable and endemic species including Aceros nipalensis, Aceros undulatus, Arctictis binturong, Asarcornis scutulata, Bos gaurus, Buceros bicornis, Ciconia episcopus, Cuon alpinus, Cuora amboinensis, Cuora mouhotii, Elaeocarpus rugosus, Elephas maximus, Geoclemys hamiltonii, Hyelaphus porcinus, Leptoptilos javanicus, Lutrogale perspicillata, Melanochelys tricarinata, Neofelis nebulosa, Nilssonia gangeticus, Nilssonia hurum, Nycticebus bengalensis, Ophiophagus hannah, Panthera pardus, Porcula salvania, Python bivittatus, Rusa unicolor, Sterna aurantia, Trachypithecus pileatus, Ursus thibetanus and critically endangered ones Manis pentadactyla, Sarcogyps calvus and Nilssonia nigricans. Besides this it also provides habitat for various threatened migratory birds like Aythya ferina, Clanga clanga, Aquila nipalensis and Aquila heliaca. The recently discovered plant species Aristolochia assamica, Chlorophytum assamicum and Peliosanthes macrophylla var. assamensis are only found in this region and are considered endemic to North-east India. Moreover this forest provides a variety of micro and macro habitats for a varied number of life forms, many of which still remain unexplored.
The biodiversity that this forest holds cannot be explained in a few words. The rapidly declining forest area has posed severe threats on these species and their habitats. It’s been a demand for years to declare it a Wildlife Sanctuary, but no government so far has paid any attention to these voices. Attempts have been made by the Sonitpur forest department for the protection of this reserve but being severely understaffed it is unable to effectively monitor the forest area and also to cease the illegal logging and hunting. In the recent decade nearly 30% of forest has been lost and more than this is severely degraded due to activities like deforestation, logging, agriculture extension and other anthropogenic activities. The local youth and some researchers are trying their best to create mass awareness among the people and to control the felonious activities upto some extent. These enthusiasts have been trying to tackle the problem with continuous efforts of repeated surveys, proper documentation and are also trying to grab the attention of stakeholders and policy makers. However, the problems mentioned above still sound huge and ever increasing, coupled with the increasing human population and migration, border conflicts, open grazing and land clearing which add to the serious concern for the reserve. With increased awareness on the importance of this habitat and role of the existing biodiversity, might there be a chance to save this last forest of the district and its wildlife from peril.
Letter written by:
Dipankar Borah, Asst. Prof. Goalpara College and Researcher at R.G.U.