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Behali Reserve Forest in Biswanath District Faces Serious Threat Due to Illegal Encroachment & Deforestation

The Behali Reserve Forest was declared in 1917. It is one of the few forests left in Biswanath district.

Behali Reserve Forest

Sentinel Digital Desk

A CORRESPONDENT

JAMUGURIHAT: Illegal Encroachment & Deforestation in Behali Reserve Forest: The Behali Reserve Forest was declared in 1917. It is one of the few forests left in Biswanath district. The initial area of 140 sq km of the reserve forest has now shrunk to only 80 sq km 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 wild animals. 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 Dipankar Borah, Assistant Professor, Department of Botany, Goalpara College, Ranjit Kakati, Ph. D. scholar of the Department of Zoology, Gauhati University, along with some local youths, 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 have been figured out. This region has been neglected for decades in research and exploratory scientific activities. The group of researchers has noticed three new plant species in the forest.

The richness of this small forest patch can be gauged from the fact that it is inhabited by some 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 like Manis pentadactyla, Sarcogyps calvus and Nilssonia nigricans. Besides this, it also provides habitat to 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 found only in this region and are considered endemic to Northeast 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 threat to these species and their habitats. There has been demand to declare it a wildlife sanctuary, but the government has not paid any attention to this. Attempts have been made by the Sonitpur forest department for protection of this reserve but being severely understaffed, it is unable to monitor the forest area effectively and also to stop the illegal logging and hunting.

In the recent decade, nearly 30 per cent of the forest has been lost. Further, it has been severely degraded due to activities like deforestation, logging, agriculture extension and other anthropogenic activities. The local youths and some researchers are trying their best to create mass awareness among the people and to control the felonious activities up to 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 remain, coupled with the increasing human population and migration, border conflicts, open grazing and land clearing which add to the concern for the reserve.

Also Read: Dehing Patkai declared as 7th National Park of Assam


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