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The Balphakram and Nokrek National Parks are the only two protected areas for wildlife in the Garo Hills. Yet, the entire spine of the Garo Hills still has large potential as wildlife habitat and unlike the other districts of Meghalaya still harbours fairly good wildlife population. The connectivity of this landscape for elephant and gibbon, tiger or peacock pheasant lie through akhin lands, privately owned clan lands, much of which is still under forest. Extensive jhuming has cut through a lot of this, but Balphakram National Park and Siju WLS are connected to Nokrek through Rewak and Emangiri RFs and the akhin lands. WTI started a project here to try and secure the
connectivity between these two important parks for elephants as part of its elephant corridors project sponsored by the World Land Trust. Soon however, the creation of the Selbelgere reserve for gibbons, a district council initiative supported by WTI (through its British High Commission sponsored district council project) had expanded the concept to include other species as well.
This report chronicles the first three or four years of this project. It is a fascinating chronicle of conservation in this region, particularly as the conservation of private forests in Meghalaya is so unlike any other part of India. Community conservation takes a whole new meaning in this state where the forest department and the government control only a fraction of the forests and wildlife that exists in the region. The district council project of the BHC was an attempt at doing just this; assessing the status of forests and wildlife in four selected district councils and advising these local governments in ways to protect forests under their own rules and regulations. Many of these may rely on traditional and community based means of protection but many are powers vested under the sixth schedule listing of these lands in the Indian constitution. Despite this, local councils had not taken the issue of wildlife conservation seriously in most part. It is extremely heartening to note that in this short period, two relatively large areas of Selbelgere and Aretika have been declared village reserves by the Garo District Council. Full credit must be given to the council leaders and akhin nokmas for coming forward and transcending decades of mistrust of authorities by participating in these conservation measures to such an extent. While the role of the WTI team in the area is laudatory, they have acted only as catalysts and the credit for
securing these lands goes to the local government. This example also acts as a pioneer step for other district council, autonomous councils and tribal councils to emulate and declare their own conservation reserves. The Wildlife Protection Act in its latest amendment recognized the power of local community protection by creating community reserves as an option of protection. Creation of village reserves or other similar local government protected areas can be a first step towards such protection or logically even devolution of the same idea to an even more local level. Such conservation measures can only be good for the threatened biodiversity of the area.
Wildlife Trust of India