A Lonely Battle for the Rainforests of Assam, India
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Around the World the forest conservation battles that seem to resonate
most are being carried out around kitchen tables by tiny environmental
activist groups. Bioregionalism, including protecting the biota of
your region and its special places, is a powerful force for waging
effective environmental campaigns. Pick a forest and conserve,
preserve and/or restore it! Below is much needed information on the
forest conservation efforts being undertaken in Assam, India; which
has important stores of biodiversity that of course, as elsewhere, are

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Title: A Lonely Battle for the Rainforests of Assam
Source: Environment News Service, http://ens.lycos.com/
Status: Copyright 1999, contact source for permission to reprint
Date: July 14, 1999
Byline: S. Ghosh

DIGBOI, Upper Assam, India, July 14, 1999 (ENS) - A tiny environmental
activist group is waging a lonely battle to save the last, surviving
patches of a rainforest in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. The
few patches of the rainforest in the state's Tinsukia and Dibrugarh
districts are the only ones left in this region of the Himalayan

This rainforest area is spread over 500 square kilometres spanning the
three contiguous reserved forests of Jaipur, Upper Dihing and Dirak.
These forests are home to a large number of rare and endangered

Unbridled industrialisation on the fringes of the three forests and
pressure of a burgeoning population are fast taking their toll. If
adequate steps are not taken immediately, the only rainforest of the
region will soon vanish, warns Soumyadeep Dutta, director of Nature's

Crude oil was discovered in India in the Assam Oil Fields, and India's
first refinery was built in 1883 at Margherita. It was shifted to its
present site at Digboi in 1901. Until the mid-1950s, this was the only
refinery in the country.

Large scale urbanisation has taken place in the region and vast
stretches of forest land have been converted to farmlands and used for
agriculture or tea plantations. Dutta says millions of tonnes of
timber, cane and other forest products are being extracted and the
ground is being cleared for more tea plantations.

Dutta has already started lobbying hard to save the rainforests of
Assam. He says, "We have submitted a proposal to the state government
to bring the three reserved forests under one unit and rename it as
Joidihing Wildlife Sanctuary." So far the plea has fallen on the deaf
ears of officialdom.

Support has come from the International Primates Protection League,
the Netherlands Committee of IUCN-World Conservation Union for
conserving the rainforests and the primates of Assam.

Econet, a non-governmental organisation based in Pune in Maharashtra
state has also helped by establishing communications links with
national and international institutions involved in similar

Biodiversity in the proposed Joidihing sanctuary has been vanishing
rapidly. The Holoock gibbon the only species of ape found in India,
lives in these forests. Dutta warns that not more than 5,000 Holoock
gibbons survive today. A 1972 Zoological Survey of India report put
the population of Holoock gibbons between 78,000 and 80,000.

The hoolock gibbon was formerly widespread from eastern India, through
Bangladesh to China and south to the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. In 1967 it
was reported to occur in Assam, Upper Myanmar, Tenasserim, northern
Thailand and northern Laos. By 1987 it had declined drastically,
particularly in Bangladesh and India. Habitat loss and hunting,
including for purposes of Asian medicine, are major threats.

Among the rare and endangered species of animals found in the
rainforests of Assam are clouded leopards, sloth bears, leopards,
tigers, elephants, Indian bison, sambars, slow loris, capped langurs,
hoolock gibbons and flying squirrels. Among the birds are drongoes,
pheasants, oriales, jacanas, wood ducks, eagles, owls, hornbills and

A survey conducted by Dutta's organisation suggests that out of 15
species of non-human primates found in India, seven inhabit this
rainforest. These are Rhesus macaque, Assamese macaque, Slow loris,
Capped langur, Pigtailed macaque, Stumptailed macaque and Hoolock
gibbon. The last five species were declared endangered in the Red Data
Book of the Zoological Survey of India in 1994.

Dutta says, "No other wildlife sanctuary or national park in the
country gives shelter to such a diverse species of monkeys and apes.
Because of this unique diversity, it is all the more necessary to give
complete protection to this forest zone by upgrading it to the status
of a wildlife sanctuary."

Nature's Beckon has launched a movement in the state for conserving
this rainforest by developing educational materials, posters and
brochures to educate the people about the importance of the forest.

The first token resistance came from the local people. "They did not
want any attention to be focused on their area. They were naturally
scared that their would lose their source of livelihood - the
forests," Dutta said.

This rainforest is an important source of rare plants whose
destruction may upset the ecological balance of the region. As there
have been few studies on plants and animals living in these
rainforests, further research could provide clues for manufacturing
chemical substitutes for gasoline or medicines to cancer cure, says
Dutta. Their destruction would result in the loss of rare species
forever, he says.