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The Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Dhubri district of Assam. The forests in the sanctuary are of dense semi-evergreen and moist deciduous type, with patches of grasslands and scattered bushes, and several water sources. The climate is temperate, with dry winters and hot summers followed by heavy rains.
The diverse ecosystem has species like tiger, leopard, golden langur, leopard cat, gaur, crab- eating mongoose, Indian porcupine, pangolin, flying squirrel, and civet cat.
The tribes that inhabit the fringe villages of Chakrashila are the Rabha and Bodo. Besides them there are some Garo and the Rajbanshi tribals, along with some Muslim families as new entrants to the villages. Agriculture is the main occupation of the villagers, with paddy as the main crop. In addition to paddy, potatoes and green vegetables are grown for home consumption and a few livestock are kept. Most families own their own looms and weave their own cloth. The income levels of the villagers are low, and they depend upon the surrounding forest resources in order to meet most of their daily requirements, such as raw material for houses, agricultural and musical implements; and for food, fuel and fodder. Most of the protein in their diet comes from the forest areas in the form of fish, snails and insects. There is a heavy dependence on the perennial springs of the forest for irrigation and potable water.
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The villagers near the Chakrashila forest felled trees for firewood and timber for wealthy merchants from different areas of Assam. This caused the forest to degrade rapidly and this prompted an NGO called Nature’s Beckon to come and set up a temporary settlement in Jornagra village. In 1988, this NGO convinced all the villagers to stand against the poachers and smugglers to save their forest. After a few violent conflicts, they established themselves as protectors of the forest. Initially the villagers got their income from NTFP collection from the forest but later they found other forms of income. The surrounding villages saw this success and wanted to participate as well. It was then that Nature’s Beckon set up a campus, Tapoban, to educate everyone in the villages about conservation of forests. They also conducted a forest area survey and it was found that the endangered golden langur and other endangered species lived in the forests nearby. This prompted the NGO and the people to ask for the forest to be named a Wildlife Sanctuary and the status was eventually received by the Governor of Assam in 1994. The forest has been regenerated successfully and further attempts are being made.
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The conservation efforts were initiated by an NGO called Nature’s Beckon, which has been visiting the area since the 1980s. They realized that the conservation of Chakrashila would not be possible unless the local villagers prevented outsiders from exploiting their forest resources. They felt a need to educate the local people on the importance of conservation for their own welfare. Towards this objective, in 1985 they set up a temporary settlement at Jornagra village on the periphery of Chakrashila. Various activities such as active bird-watching trips and trekking through the forest were taken up. Complimenting the work of Nature’s Beckon, some
of the village youth showed a keen interest and eventually became members of the group. Gradually, the local tribes developed trust towards the group and held active discussions on the various aspects
of the environment. This group started convincing the people that
the local people were the only ones who could work towards saving
and restoring the natural resources of Chakrashila. Although some of
the villagers were receptive to this suggestion, they expressed their inability and helplessness to take pro-active efforts to prevent the powerful merchants and poachers from invading the forests. The people were made to realize that these actions were a punishable
offence and the benefit of the doubt would rest with the people
who are working towards conservation.
The members of Nature’s Beckon subsequently began visiting every house in Chakrashila and tried to understand the problems faced by them, like poverty, lack of education and poor health. The emphasis on women participation in environmental management was realized. It took a year for this NGO to gather the total support of the entire village, and hence November 1988 was selected for direct action against the poachers and smugglers.
Initially the villagers faced several violent clashes, which led to injuries to some youth, yet help from the forest department was not sought. They did not want to be dependent on any external agency for their needs. The youth repeatedly confronted the poachers and smugglers, often resulting in injury and death. On one such occasion a truck, which had entered the forest to smuggle trees, was burnt and a huge quantity of saws, axes, other tree-felling equipment and a few arms were seized. All the seized material was handed over to the forest department. In appreciation of their dedicated work, the state government rewarded them with an amount of Rs 5,000 from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, which further boosted the villager’s morale.
Since the periphery is mainly a sal-dominated forest, the green canopy was restored in no time, especially with round-the-clock vigilance of the villagers.
Constructive work also began simultaneously in the village itself. Due to paucity of funds, initial support was provided from the sale of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) such as thatch, bamboo and grass. Villagers were encouraged to cultivate their traditional foods like wildflowers, edible roots such as tapioca, and to raise edible insects. They were also encouraged to eat their traditional foods like snails, field rats and crabs.
Kitchen gardens were raised with help from Nature’s Beckon, who supplied the villagers with the various vegetable seeds. Poultry and pigs were raised which helped them to sustain themselves and were an added source of income. Weaving, which is a vital source of income for the tribal families, was started anew in many poor families.
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There was a remarkable effect after conservation efforts by the villagers providing them a sense of self-respect by way of improvement in their economic condition. They set an example to adjacent villages like Abhyakuti, Bandarpara, Kaljani, Damodarpur, Banshbari and many others. These villages approached Nature’s Beckon to provide assistance. When the other villages around the Chakrashila Hills Reserve joined the effort, the need for an office and a training centre for the youth and women was felt. A campus, Tapoban, was developed for this purpose at no extra cost, as most of the work and resources necessary came spontaneously from the villagers. It is now a vital centre of learning and offers hospitality to naturalists and enlightened tourists from faraway places.
Villagers are taught to plant trees, shrubs, medicinal plants, edible roots, fast-growing fuelwood trees, fruits and flowers, thatch and bamboo so that they could be spared the drudgery of collecting these from deep inside the forest. A small project of digging furrows to connect cultivable land and a perennial source of water has resulted in doubling of production of crops.
A forest area survey was taken up by Nature’s Beckon. A checklist of birds, mammals, reptiles, plants and other species was prepared. It was discovered that not only was Chakrashila home to the endangered golden langur but was also a habitat of many other endangered mammals like Chinese pangolin, crab-eating mongoose, clouded leopard, leopard, gaur, tiger; endangered reptiles like monitor lizard, water monitor, king cobra, Asian leaf turtle; and endangered birds like great hornbill, oriental pied hornbill, Eurasian eagle, owl, osprey, black baza, etc.
Some of the constraints of community-based conservation in Chakrashila are:
1. Total lack of infrastructure for the management of the biodiversity (such as specialized field equipment) for this protected area.
2. Uncertain tenurial rights of the villagers over the forest resources.
3. Lack of knowledge among local people regarding government policies and laws relating to protected areas.
|Data Source||From publicly available sources|
|Year of Study||1997|