A plateau losing green forest cover: Karbi Anglong district, Assam

In the remote North-eastern corner of the Indian subcontinent lies the beautiful district of Karbi Anglong. The plateau is dominantly inhabited by the Karbi tribes hence the name Karbi Anglong. The Karbis are the indigenous inhabitants of the region and ‘Anglong’ is a Karbi noun for “hills.” The region is flanked by numerous rivers and tributaries like Dhansiri, Longnit, Jamuna, Kolioni, Nambor, etc. The district is bordered by Golaghat district on the east, Meghalaya state and Morigaon district on the west, Nagaon and Golaghat districts on the north and Dima Hasao district and Nagaland state on the south.

Arial view of Karbi Anglong forest, Assam

Major part of the district is covered with forest which constitute about 41.12% of geographical area . The panoramic view of the forests in the Karbi Anglong instils everlasting sense of wilderness and tranquility. The forests, rich in biodiversity comprise of rare, endemic and endangered species of plants and animals and has always attracted naturalists and researchers to quench their thirst of plethora of knowledge. The forests are known to be inhabited by the Asian elephantBengal tigerClouded leopard and LeopardHoolock gibbonPangolinPorcupine Slow loris etc. alongwith with diverse species of butterflies, moths and birds.

Panoramic view of West Karbi Anglong district, Assam

The river channels, rivulets, streams, creeks, brooks comprise of different species of fish as well as colourful fish (some fish species might not yet have been discovered yet). The major forest types found in Karbi Anglong District  comprise of Moist semi-evergreen forests, Moist Mixed Deciduous forests, Riverain Type and Miscellaneous type with scattered pure or mixed patches of bamboos, alongwith, five wildlife sanctuaries, two elephant reserves (Dhansiri – Lumding and Kaziranga – Karbi Anglong) and 17 District Council Reserve Forests (DCRFs); Garampani Wildlife SanctuaryEast Karbi-Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary, Marat Longri Wildlife Sanctuary, Nambor Wildlife Sanctuary and North Karbi-Anglong Wildlife Sanctuary.

Waterfall in Karbi Anglong district, Assam

The forests and the forest fringe villages in Karbi Anglong district have ‘Sacred groves’, which are intact forest areas backed by people’s beliefs. The tribal people of the Karbi Anglong district believe that each object has its own spirit which is omnipresent and worship the spirits of a particular space or area (forest) called ‘Longri Arnam’ (Territorial Deities). ‘Longri Arnam’ is also known as ‘Than’ in Assamese, which is a sacred grove where the spirits or deities reside in a particular space or area (forest). In Northeast India, many sacred groves have been already reported in Karbi Anglong, Assam (Tripathi, 2001; Khan et al. 2008).

Waterfall in Karbi Anglong district, Assam

Karbi Anglong has a contiguous landscape with world heritage site Kaziranga National Park. The district is also a high priority area for long-term conservation of the Western Hoolock gibbon, one of the two species of lesser-known apes found in the Northeast India. One of the crucial roles played by Karbi Anglong is that its highlands provide shelter to wildlife from Kaziranga during floods. The rich natural vegetation and forests are an important part in the life-process of the tribal population and forms an indispensable part in the life of the Karbis. The life and economy of the tribal people in the division is intimately connected with the forests. Majority of the tribal population in the division depends on the forests and make a living out of the forest produce collected by them; mainly edible roots and tubers and by hunting small animals. The forests provide the tribals and other communities living close to the forest habitat, shelter, raw materials for household equipment. Slowly the dependence of the local on the forest has significantly increased. There has been sudden shift from forestry to agriculture in the division which has resulted in massive deforestation. Lack of alternative livelihood for some and greed on the part of unscrupulous traders has led to gradual denudation of the forests. The link between human poverty and environmental degradation is also one of the important factors behind deforestation.

River system, Karbi Anglong district, Assam

Deforestation is partly attributed to shifting cultivation practices (i.e., slash and burn, locally referred as jhum cultivation) and partly due to practices like illegal felling of trees, mining, conversion of forest land into agriculture land, poverty and encroachment. Indirectly, deforestation has triggered micro climate change, high rate of soil erosion, floods, increased report of man elephant conflict and loss of biodiversity in the district. Government initiatives have not yet trickled down to the ground level so as to ensure proper management of forests and livelihood upliftment so as to reduce dependency on forests.

Tribal societies still practice shifting cultivation/Jhoom cultivation which has incurred loss of biodiversity. Conversion of forest land into agriculture land like tea, orange and rubber plantation has caused depletion of a large forest area. Due to the present spate of growth of small tea gardens, large forest cover paved way to tea plantation, thus causing further shrinkage in the total forest area. Area under Forests and grasslands shrunk by the expansion on settled agricultural practice. To compensate the forest cover, Teak (Tectona grandis), Gamari (Gmelina arborea), Titasopa (Michelia champaca) Simul (Bombax ceiba), Udal (Sterculia villosa) Ajhar (Lagerstroemia flos- reginae) and Pine (Pinus khasya) etc. have been planted in the district to augment the green cover.  

A tea estate amidst forest cover , Karbi Anglong district, Assam

Deforestation has emerged as one of the major concerns of the world community as significant environmental impacts are attributed to it. The association between population surge and deforestation in most of the developing countries has intensified the concern on deforestation. There are reports which infer that deforestation and loss of wildlife habitat in upper Assam is likely to influence not only the adjoining Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, but also lower Assam so far as the wildlife and ecosystems are concerned. The human lives and forests are interconnected. Therefore, forests need to be reinstated to their original status for long-term subsistence of humans and wildlife.

Thank you!!


Picture courtesy internet

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Published by Dr. Chandrima Debi

Hi, I am Chandrima Debi. I am a Doctorate in Forestry and an independent researcher. Ever since childhood, I experienced deep-rooted connection with nature, forest and wildlife. I have written various research articles, case studies based on geology, forests, medicinal plants, biodiversity and conservation. Through this blog I share my experiences with nature and forests around us and aid towards the protection and conservation of biodiversity, wildlife and the values associated.

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