GOALPARA, Dec 12 - The Goalpara unit of the Assam Science Society (ASS), has recently taken an initiative and submitted memorandums to all the concerned authorities to take immediate action for the declaration of the Sri Surya Pahar as a protected area for the conservation of the capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus)and also to declare Urpod beel in the district as a bird sanctuary.
Talking to this correspondent, the president of the ASS, Goalpara unit, Dr Siddhi Nath Sarma said that both the issues were first mentioned and thoroughly discussed in a meeting held at Goalpara College on the occasion of the World Environment Day celebrations on June 5, 2017 and thereafter resolutions were taken to take necessary steps in this regard.
Dr Sarma also said that the first issue is related to the conservation of the capped langur of Sri Surya Pahar, located 12 km east of Goalpara town. The eastern slope of the hill harbours a sizeable population of the endangered species. The animal has been categorised by the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 as a Schedule I species and even though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora (CITES) also recognised the species in its Appendix 1, nothing has been done so far to protect and conserve this species in this habitat. The hill which has a mixed deciduous type of vegetation is also home to two other species namely the �Assamese macaque� and �Rhesus macaque� besides the capped langur.
Dr Sarma mentioned that the need to conserve the habitat and declare Sri Surya Pahar as a protected area is due to various threat perceptions characterised by habitat fragmentation due to encroachments and other anthropogenic pressures like logging for timber, firewood collection etc., and of late much of the forest has become highly degraded resulting in rapid reduction of feeding trees as well as roosting trees for langurs. Another threat is the increased conflict with humans due to the encroachment of forest land, which a natural habitat of the langurs and work should be taken up for restoration of the habitat with the help of native species for conservation and arrest the decline of the capped langur population, he added.
The capped langur, a �colobine� monkey of the genus Trachypithecus is one of the three species of langurs found in North east India, the other two being Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) and Phayre�s langur (Trachypithecus phayrei). This species of langur is most common in the north east region and is also found in north central Bhutan, Myanmar, China and Bangladesh.
On the other hand, the secretary of ASS, Goalpara branch Dr Jugabrat Das said that the second issue is related to the conservation of migratory and resident birds in the Urpod beel (wetland), spread over an area of around 700 hectares and is a home for 24 species of birds including water fowl, white winged wood duck, green pigeon etc. Besides, the beel has a rich biodiversity and has a high concentration of diverse group of migratory birds which is a major attraction to the tourists. But due to various threats, both the ichthyofaunal as well as avian biodiversity are on the verge of depletion.
Dr Das said that the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) has listed Urpod beel under the code no IN-AS-46 and as per its report, it is a suitable natural habitat for two critically endangered bird species namely the oriental white-backed vulture (Gypsbengalensis) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and one vulnerable species the Lesser Adjutant Stork (Leptotilos javanicus).
Dr Das also said that sadly the wetland has been threatened by many human activities. The actual land area has been decreasing due to unabated encroachment and other construction activities going around the wetland. Other threats include fishing, agriculture activities, animal farming, growth of brick kilns, heavy siltation and growth of water hyacinth. Dr Das further added that there has been shrinkage of the water spread area from 71.9% in 1978 to 60% in 2002 and the rampant onslaught on nature that went unabated all these years has resulted in further shrinkage of the area to 38.5% in 2010. In 2014, Urpod beel was left with only 29.8% water spread area.
Due to lack of conservation initiatives, the wetland has been rapidly depleting and the number of migratory birds which normally appear during the winter season has been decreasing gradually. According to the IBCN, there are no recent records of the presence of the Greater Adjutant Stork in the beel, but with protection initiatives it could reappear over time, Dr Das added.
It may be mentioned that the Ministry of Environment & Forests, GOI has identified two wetlands from Assam viz., Deepor beel of Kamrup (M) district and Urpod beel of Goalpara district under the �National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems� but no noticeable protective measures have been initiated till date.
Conscious citizens have demanded that the beel be declared a �bird sanctuary� and urged the concerned authorities to immediately check the flourishing trade of water birds in the surrounding markets, unrestricted use of chemical fertilisers and weedicides in the vicinity of the beel, carry out eviction drives and clear all encroachments as well as take other steps in this regard.