By Lamphrang Nongspung
SHILLONG: A serious concern is being raised over the possible extinction of the animals inhabiting the Nongkhyllem Forest Sanctuary in Ri-Bhoi district on account of the rapid illegal felling of trees for timber smuggling which is currently happening in the sanctuary.
It is learnt that at present, the forest sanctuary covers an area of 100 square kilometres including an additional area of 6.2 kilometres, acquired by the Government in 2002. Nongkhyllem sanctuary is the habitat for elephants, deer, wild pigs, amongst other animals although elephants number highest in population inside the sanctuary.
According to official sources, elephants which inhabiting the sanctuary are those which have migrated from the various Reserved Forests in Assam.
“Elephants are animals which migrate from one forest to another. But with the decline in forest cover the elephants are compelled to remain inside the Nongkhyllem Forest Sanctuary since areas around the sanctuary have quickly turned into human habitations,”official sources on Tuesday informed.
With the reduction in the area under the forests, official sources informed that animals are now venturing outside the forests into the adjoining villages. “It has become impossible for the animals to restrict their movements only to the forest areas since their habitat has become too congested,” official sources said.
The sources attributed the growing man-elephant conflict to the declining forest on cover because of illegal felling of trees and other human activities.
“Only in December last year, an employee of the Forest and Environment department was trampled to death by an elephant,” the sources said while adding that there are many unreported cases of man-animal conflict within the sanctuary in the past few years.
Meanwhile, official sources have expressed serious concern over the number of people owning arms along the areas close to the sanctuary, adding that there are 270 people who own licensed arms while many others own unlicensed arms.
“The fact that so many people own licensed arms in such a small area has led to the illegal killing of animals inside the sanctuary either for meat or for other commercial purposes. This rampant killing of animals is posing a serious threat and would result in the swift extinction of animals inside the sanctuary,” official sources said.
Meanwhile, official sources informed that another interesting factor which is restricting the movement of animals is because the villagers are having their plantations right next to the boundary of the sanctuary.
According to sources, there are fruit orchards and paddy fields very close to the boundaries of the sanctuary especially in Umtasar, Saiden and Paham Syiem.
“Since the orchards are so close to the sanctuary, the animals are foraging for bananas and other fruits planted by the villagers rather than eating wild fruits which are found in plenty inside the forest. This change of food habits by animals is natural,” official sources said.
When asked about the measures taken by the forest department to curb the illegal activities within the sanctuary, official sources said that the department alone cannot address this possible threat of extinction of animals in the sanctuary unless the people themselves cooperate in protecting the animals from becoming extinct.