KHALINGDUAR (UDALGURI), Dec 27 - Despite its immense significance as a prime wildlife habitat and forming a contiguous belt with the neighbouring Bhutan forests � something that warrants its upgrading to a wildlife sanctuary � the Khalingduar reserve forest continues to languish for want of attention.
In fact, the entire Bornadi-Khalingduar complex under Manas Tiger Reserve falling in the Indo-Malayan biodiversity hotspot harbours wide-ranging wildlife and facilitates wildlife movement between India and Bhutan.
�The contiguous landscape together with the Neoli proposed reserve forest (PRF) encompasses both the neighbouring countries and constitutes an ideal habitat for varied wildlife besides serving as a critical corridor area. Khalingduar RF is a fit case for upgrading to a wildlife sanctuary for long-term conservation of wildlife,� a forest official having long experience of serving in the area told The Assam Tribune.
He added that Khalingduar shares a common boundary with Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary (earlier called Khaling Wildlife Sanctuary) of Bhutan and diverse wildlife including elephants and tigers use the border stretches to cross over to either side.
�These have been time-tested wildlife corridors but growing anthropogenic pressures on the Assam side is causing depletion of forest cover. If Khalingduar is elevated to a wildlife sanctuary, a much better protective mechanism can be put in place,� he said.
A camera-trap survey done by WWF-India a few years back to document the faunal diversity of the Bornadi-Khalingduar landscape had yielded photographic evidence of a total of 19 species belonging to 12 families, including leopard, wild dog, leopard cat, binturong, elephant, sambar, barking deer, yellow-throated marten, crab-eating mongoose, gaur, wild pig, rhesus macaque, Assamese macaque, Himalayan crestless porcupine and Indian hare besides various birds.
�These findings of the study reveal the importance, threats and potential of the area and recommendations have been made to secure this corridor for continuous animal movement. Anthropogenic disturbance is a major deterrent to undisturbed animal movement in this area with resultant forest fragmentation and degradation. This indicates the need for effective conservation strategies in order to maintain the remnants of this corridor complex,� the WWF-India study report said.
Previous records also indicate the critically-endangered pygmy hog and hispid hare were available here. A great diversity of birds (218 species) and butterflies (135 species) has also been recorded here.
Located in Udalguri district, the 70.33-sq km Khalingduar RF comprises moist deciduous, semi-evergreen and mixed deciduous type forests. Its altitude ranges from 250-450 metres. The scenic beauty of Khalingduar also offers tremendous scope for tourism promotion.
The Neoli PRF that lies between Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary and Khalingduar RF covers an area of 11.48 sq km and is critical to maintaining the contiguity between the two areas.
Conservationist and Honorary Wildlife Warden Jayanta Kumar Das said that large-scale encroachment, illegal logging, expanding croplands and human settlements were drastically eroding the wildlife habitat at Khalingduar, Neoli and Bornadi.
�Invasive weeds are also causing rapid transformation of grassland into woodland, adversely impacting grassland animals and birds. Khalingduar comprises rich forests and the BTC and the State government should immediately consider its upgrading to a wildlife sanctuary,� Das said.
According to Das, Khalingduar has witnessed rapid deforestation and decimation of wildlife since the 1990s and the resultant man-elephant conflict following habitat shrinkage was assuming alarming proportions in the area.
The neighbouring Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan harbours wide-ranging species such as elephant, tiger, leopard, Himalayan black bear, gaur, Chinese pangolin, and four types of lesser cats (Asiatic golden cat, marbled cat, clouded leopard, leopard cat) and four types of hornbills (great hornbill, oriental pied hornbill, wrinkled hornbill, wreathed hornbill).
�It is normal that most of these species would inhabit the Khalingduar forests as well in view of the geographical proximity,� a forest official said.