April 2011: In the Northeast, a virtually silent army of wildlife defenders is working tirelessly to conserve the region’s fragile ecosystems. The Green Heart Nature Club is one such group. The goal of its volunteers is simple – protect the forests of the Northeast and their wildlife and improve the lot of local communities living in and around forested areas.
They have been working in the area since the 1990s; one of their first projects was a wildlife census in Kokrajhar followed by an eco-camp programme conducted in association with the Assam Science and Technology Council and the Ministry of Environment and Forests. Since then they have been involved in a variety of initiatives aimed at spreading awareness of the importance of wildlife conservation and the need to live sustainably. They began by conducting socio-economic surveys of communities living on the periphery of the Manas National Park so that they could have a better understanding of the needs of the local people. They then began to work closely with locals, holding seminars and talks for the villagers with a focus on educating the youth.
The organisation has done a great deal of work to protect the endangered golden langur. They began in 1993 by holding talks on the status of the animal and roped in villagers to plant several species of native food plants in forested areas to augment local populations of the species. In 2003, they zeroed in their efforts on the Nadangiri Hill Reserve Forest, a habitat with immense potential for the conservation of langurs. The group gathered people to help restore the degraded landscape and worked with them to form Self Help Groups (SHGs) so that tribals could earn from the protection, rather than the destruction, of forests. A seedling nursery was created where around 50,000 seedlings were planted. Plants that had commercial, fruiting and medicinal value were grown to benefit both wildlife and people. In 2006, when several golden langurs were found dead in the Chirang Reserve Forest, the organisation carried out an investigation with the support of the Wildlife Trust of India and the David Shepherd Wildlife Fund.
Recognising the importance of involving local people in their mission, the Green Heart Nature Club has pioneered the establishment of several wildlife protection committees. Under their guidance, almost 30 such groups have been formed around the Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary and another set of SHGs have mushroomed in Kokrajhar including 20 eco-clubs involving students and teachers. The eco-clubs have helped further the organisation’s goals by independently conducting awareness programmes and spearheading conservation initiatives in their own areas.
The organisation also acts as the eyes and ears of the Forest Department and offers valuable support by helping to conduct wildlife censuses in surrounding areas. The group also studied the habitat of a newly-discovered species of monkey, the Arunachal macaque, shortly after it was discovered and helped monitor the populations of threatened birds such as the Scalleters Monal and Rufous-Necked Hornbill. Their participation in the 1993 Asian mid-winter Waterfowl Census in the wetlands of western Assam led by the Asian Wetland Bureau helped the area receive international recognition for its importance as a biodiversity hotspot.
Awareness programmes are a big part of the organisation’s work and they frequently hold seminars and discussions on current issues in conservation. By calling in eminent speakers and involving locals in ongoing dialogue about protection, they have helped turn many hearts and minds in support of their cause. They have also helped children reconnect with nature by holding camps in the Buxa Tiger Reserve, Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, Orang National Park and the Manas National Park. In 2009, they organised a workshop on the conservation of Chakrashila through community involvement and invited 65 locals including village heads, politicians, journalists, forest officials and youth to help devise a conservation plan for the sanctuary.
A key aspect of their work is preventing wildlife trafficking and rescuing trapped and injured animals. They have intercepted some wildlife smuggling deals and are frequently called in to rescue wild animals that have strayed into human habitation. Thanks to their concerted efforts, the sale of wild meat in local markets has dropped and in 2010, they uncovered an international ring of elephant smugglers and were even able to rescue a cow and her calf from certain death.
The Green Heart Nature Club is one of the many heartwarming examples from around the country that show that people can have a positive impact on conservation efforts and help protect forests through extremely simple measures.
GREEN HEART NATURE CLUB
W. No. 6, Kokrajhar – 783370 Assam, India.
Tel: +91 3661 70970
Mobile: +91 9435225604, +91 9085260460