PROJECT LEAD: Dilip Deori (email@example.com)
The largest district in Assam, Karbi Anglong (literally meaning ‘Karbi hills’ or ‘the hills of the Karbi tribe’) is sprawled across 10,434 sq km, of which about 77 percent is under forest cover. The district lies adjacent to Kaziranga National Park and includes five wildlife sanctuaries, two elephant reserves (Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong and Dhansiri – Lumding) and 17 District Council Reserve Forests (DCRFs).
The forests in this region are primarily tropical semi-evergreen, moist deciduous and wet evergreen, and harbour a variety of threatened species including Asian elephants, Royal Bengal tigers, common and clouded leopards, and hoolock gibbons. Karbi Anglong is part of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot – a testament to its biological riches but also to its ecological fragility, since this is one of the most threatened hotspots on the planet. The major threats to wildlife stem from habitat fragmentation and destruction, caused by encroachment on forest lands, the rampant practice of slash-and-burn (or jhum) agriculture, and unplanned developmental activities.
The persistent loss of forest habitat has hindered wildlife movement and led to increased conflict between humans and wild animals, particularly elephants. With a large elephant population in the landscape – the 2011 elephant census estimated 1675 elephants in the Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve alone – Human-Elephant Conflict is a severe problem that manifests in the destruction of crops and property, and the loss of human and elephant lives.
Encroachment on forest lands, jhum agriculture and unplanned development have caused the destruction and fragmentation of wild habitats in Karbi Anglong.
Following extensive groundtruthing under the Right of Passage project, WTI and its partner organisations have identified six elephant corridors that are vital to wildlife movement through this landscape, and which need to be secured to ensure the long-term ecological health of the region. WTI and its partners have been working in concert with the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) and Assam Forest Department to protect and secure these high-priority corridors, while simultaneously engaging with local communities through short-term conflict mitigation measures.
Our conservation plan for protecting and conserving the wildlife and wild habitats of Karbi Anglong broadly encompasses the following activities:
THE KALAPAHAR-DAIGRUNG ELEPHANT CORRIDOR
Securement status: Ongoing
Model: Private purchase
A small patch of forest about three kilometres long and two kilometres wide, this corridor is located about 22 km from Silonijan on the Silonijan – Chokikhola road. It is a vital habitat link in the landscape, connecting the Kalapahar Proposed Reserve Forest (Nambor West Block, East Karbi Anglong Division) with the Daigrung part of the Nambor – Daigrung Wildlife Sanctuary (Nambor North Block, Golaghat District). Elephants use this corridor to move between Nambor – Daigrung Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park.
Most of the corridor is forested, with a small portion under human use. There were two settlements within its area: Ram Terang (19 families) on the Kalapahar side and Tokolangso (23 families) on the Nambor – Daigrung side. The 19 families of Ram Terang have been voluntarily relocated to a site outside the corridor under Phase I of the corridor securement process. The voluntary relocation of Tokolangso is ongoing under Phase II.
As a testament to the success of Ram Terang’s relocation, elephants are now regularly seen passing through the vacated lands while moving through the Kalapahar-Daigrung corridor.
The Relocation of Ram Terang: WTI began working on conflict mitigation in the landscape in 2009-10, with assistance from the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF). By 2010 a sociologist had been placed in Ram Terang and WTI began the slow march towards building a consensus for relocation, in partnership with the KAAC, the Assam Forest Department, Elephant Family and IUCN Netherlands. Local community mobilisers played an important role in turning the tide of opinion and the villagers ultimately agreed to relocate outside the corridor area once it was clear their needs would be taken care of.
Land for the new village was acquired at the end of 2012. In 2013 the traditional king of Karbi Anglong laid the foundation stone for New Ram Terang. In November 2015, WTI and Elephant Family handed the ceremonial keys to the new village to a gaon burha, a village elder. The villagers moved into their new homes in March 2016.
The 19 families of New Ram Terang have all received legal patta land (0.35 acres per household) and permanent houses. Further, with community paddy fields (1.33 acres per household), citrus plantations and a pond for fisheries, they now have a measure of self-sufficiency. Improved Cook Stove units have been provided to families to reduce their fuelwood consumption. There is a primary school that their children can attend and infrastructure for the village’s electrification is currently being installed.
Meanwhile, as a testament to the success of Ram Terang’s relocation, elephants are now regularly seen passing through the vacated lands while moving through the Kalapahar – Daigrung corridor.
The Relocation of Ram Terang, and elephant movement through the vacated corridor lands
A number of community-focused initiatives have been launched to promote alternate livelihood solutions that reduce the local dependency on forest resources. Training programmes are being initiated to enhance productivity based on the traditional skill sets of rural youth and womenfolk. Community fisheries, weaving and tailoring, and animal husbandry are helping to generate supplementary income and wean communities from an over-reliance on subsistence agriculture, which has a deleterious effect on wild habitats.
GREEN CORRIDOR CHAMPIONS
WTI has developed a cadre of local individuals called the Green Corridor Champions (GCCs) to help secure five crucial elephant corridors – Amguri, Kanchanjuri, Deosur, Panbari and Haldibari – in the Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong landscape with Elephant Family’s support. GCC teams have been put together in partnership with two regional organisations: BHUMI and the Duarbagori Cooperative Society Limited (DBCSL). In coordination with the WTI-Elephant Family team, the GCCs are working to sensitise developmental agencies and local authorities so that no activities detrimental to animal movement take place in these corridors. In addition to monitoring the corridors and ensuring right of passage for wildlife, they undertake awareness campaigns to build a social momentum for the protection of the corridors among communities that reside in and around them.
An annual Elephant Cup football tournament is organised to ameliorate local attitudes towards elephant conservation
MVS Unit: Established in 2009 and now run in partnership with JTEF, the Karbi Anglong Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) unit and Wildlife Rescue Centre in Diphu assists the Assam Forest Department by providing emergency assistance to displaced and distressed wildlife. The unit also conducts direct interventions to manage and provide treatment to conflict animals if required, treats domestic animals injured in conflict situations, and organises immunisation camps for livestock to prevent disease outbreaks that can affect wildlife.
Solar Fences and Bio-fences: Solar fences and supporting bio-fences (citrus plantations) have been experimented with at Ram Terang and Chowkihola as short-term conflict mitigation measures.
Awareness Activities: Select villagers in the landscape have been taken on field visits to Kaziranga National Park and WTI project sites in Garo Hills, Meghalaya, to make them aware about the importance of community-based conservation. The project team also celebrates World Environment Day and Wildlife Week annually, involving students from the region in drawing and quiz competitions with an elephant conservation theme. An annual Elephant Cup football tournament is also organised to ameliorate local attitudes towards elephant conservation.
Grain for Grain: Traditional schemes to offset crop loss caused by wild herbivores involve cash compensations rather than food relief, whereas the latter is of primacy especially to Below Poverty Line communities. WTI’s solution, field tested in Nagaland and exported to Karbi Anglong, is to provide relief in the form of grain equivalent to the amount that has been lost. A committee comprising a Divisional Forest Officer, a Block Development Officer and an NGO representative can disburse this relief speedily after every season of crop loss. In 2016-17, 4150 kg of rice were distributed to 83 beneficiary households across the landscape. The Grain for Grain approach has been found to have a significant impact in terms of reducing retaliatory killings of elephants due to crop loss.