LOCATION: MANAS BIOSPHERE RESERVE, Assam, INDIA
TARGET SPECIES: GOLDEN LANGUR
STATUS: ESTABLISHED (SUSTAINED BY LOCAL LEADERS)
In 1997, Community Conservation initiated The Golden Langur Conservation Project to protect the golden langur within its Indian range. CC partnered with Nature’s Foster and Green Forest Conservation to work to protect habit for this endangered species. Each of the organizations focuses on sections of the golden langur range and on specific aspects of conservation of habitat, while all working closely with the villages within their focal areas.
The golden langur is endemic to western Assam and southern Bhutan, meaning it exists nowhere else in the world. Having lost much of its habitat due to deforestation and other types of habit destruction, the primary area where the golden langur still exists is within the Manas Biosphere Reserve. This important reserve lies in lies in the western region of the state of Assam.
The forests of the Manas Biosphere Reserve have been threatened by illegal logging since the early 1990s. But now, local people are working as forest guards and are integral in protecting the habitat.
Each NGO works with communities adjacent to the Reserve Forests or protected areas to initiate community forest protection and reforestation programs. The strategy can be easiest seen when looking at the southern “island” forests of Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary, and Nadangiri and Kakoijana Reserve Forests where the participating villages surround the protected areas.
The Forum NGOs worked with village groups under the Joint Forest Management system that began in 1998 in Assam or in forming informal forest protection groups. Each village has been replanting, maintaining and protecting forest adjacent to their village both for the wildlife and for their own future use and benefit. Tree seedlings are grown in village nurseries and then replanted.
Villagers are actively protecting their forests by keeping encroaching woodcutters out and even placing signs declaring village ownership. They also contact the Assam Forest Department to stop the encroachers. In the larger Reserve Forests in the Manas Biosphere Reserve a similar approach is being taken but, because of the larger forested areas, protection is more difficult.
The NGOs have also worked with villages to form Self Help Groups (SHG) to relieve economic dependence on logging. These are village groups made up of 10-20 members of the same sex that come together to benefit economically. Each member deposits a small monthly fee into a common account of the SHG. The NGO coordinator trains SHG members in record-keeping, financial concepts and running meetings. Once the groups are running smoothly after about six months, they are linked to rural banks where their money is deposited. The collective deposits can then be loaned to SHG members to begin micro-enterprises. This method empowers villagers and works especially well with women. Thus far the Forum has developed over 30 SHGs that have created micro-industries in fish, goat and chicken production, growing bananas, ginger, turmeric and arum crops, and in weaving-related activities.
As the village groups have become more empowered through both SHGs and forest management committees they have become more sophisticated in forest protection. We are encouraging the village groups to work together and eventually hope to bring groups together into federations that can think and act in terms of regional forest protection.
Currently there is a federation, the United Forest Conservation Network composed of 18 community groups that work with the Bodo land Territorial Council and the Assam Forest Department to protect almost the entire Manas Biosphere Reserve.
Most importantly the Indian population of golden langurs has increased from about 1500 in 1999 to almost 5600 langurs. In addition, due to the community protection, UNESCO has removed the “Manas in danger” listing.
You can learn more about the conservation approach here.