The Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary was earlier known as the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and also as Hollongapar Reserved Forest.
Nomenclature & Significance Of Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary:
The Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary derives its name from the Hollong tree and Hoolock gibbons.
The Sanctuary is a natural treasure house of the Hollong tree (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus) in its upper canopy.
The sanctuary is also home to the Hoolock gibbons – the only gibbons of India.
Since ages, the area has been covered by sporadic evergreen trees as well a Bojal bamboos (Pseudodactylum sp.).
The Central & Lower Canopies:
The central canopy of Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary houses the Nahar (Mesua ferrea) tree. The lower canopy of the Sanctuary has a carpet of evergreen herbs and shrubs.
The forests of Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary are located in Jorhat a district in the north-eastern Indian State of Assam.
The city nearest to the Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is Jorhat. The Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is bordered by tea gardens and small villages.
Coordinates: The Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is located at 26.716667°N and 94.383333°E.
The surveyed area of Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary is 2,098.62 ha (8.1 sq mi).
The ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ receives 249 cm (98 in) of rainfall on an average annually.
Altitude & Topography:
Located at an altitude between 330 and 390 ft (100 and 120 m), the topography of the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ gradually slopes downwards from the southeast direction towards northwest.
The Three Distinct Habitat Zones Of ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’
Over the ages, river Bhogdoi has formed a waterlogged region along the border of the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
This waterlogged portion in the sanctuary primarily houses semi-hydrophytic plants. This particular aspect has led to the formation of three distinctly identifiable micro-ecosystems or habitat zones within the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’. These are the the flood-prone zone, the down-slope zone, and the up-slope zone.
‘Reserve Forest’ Status:
The Government demarcated this isolated forest area in 1881.
That very year, the authorities concerned declared the portion as protected; and named it as the ‘Hollongapar Reserve Forest’.
During those times, the reserve forest stretched up to the foothills of Patkai mountain range.
The ‘Artificial Regeneration’ Move:
During the early 1900s, the authorities launched a concerted drive for artificial regeneration of the reserve forest.
This drive on a mission mode delivered results and the reserve forest regenerated into a well-stocked forest. Consequently, there was significant development in the rich biodiversity of Gibbon Reserve Forest.
Artificial regeneration was introduced .
This concerted attempt was aimed at developing an even-aged well-stocked forest across the Gibbon Reserve Forest way back in 1924.
These artificial plantations juxtaposed with the naturally generated vegetation slowly but surely germinated a new and richly endowed ser of flora in the forest.
Now, the Gibbon Reserve Forest is endowed with rich and varied biodiversity.
During the 1900s, additional areas were added to the Gibbon Reserve Forest.
Reconstitution Of The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’:
The Reserve Forest (RF) was reconstituted and renamed as the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ in 1997.
By 1997, the aggregate area of the Gibbon Reserve Forest came around to 2,098.62 ha (8.1 sq mi).
Looming Threats To Hollongapar Forests
The habitat of ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ faces threats owing to three specific aspects.
These aspects are habitat fragmentation, illegal encroachments and logging.
Unfortunately, since 1881, the widely extensive area of the forest got fragmented.
What is more, trees were felled by unscrupulous people and the surrounding areas were encroached upon.
Tracing The Tracks Of Hollongapar Forests
It was during a primate aurvey in the later part of 1980s that environmentalists and foresters recognised the Hollongapar forests as a promising wildlife sanctuary.
Taking forward the findings to their logical conclusions, the authorities declared the area as protected.
‘Reserve Forest’ Status:
On August 27,1881, the protected forest area attained the status of a ‘Reserve Forest’ (RF).
During those days, the area of ‘Hollongapar Reserve Forest’ encompassed 206 ha or (0.80 sq mi).
The researchers considered the reserve forest as an “integral part” of forests at the foothills of the Patkai mountain range.
At that time, the Hollongapar Reserve Forest served as a vital link to a large forest tract stretching up to the northeastern Indian State of Nagaland.
Though on August 27,1881, the protected area of Hollongapar Reserve Forest was 206 ha (0.80 sq mi), the area shrank in 1896 as certain sections were de-reserved.
Nowadays, the sanctuary is surrounded by small villages, and tea gardens.
The forest got fragmented while the reserve became isolated from the foothills primarily owing to two reasons: emergence of tea gardens and new villages around the Hollongapar Reserve Forest.
The tea gardens began to emerge between 1880 and 1920, while the villages were established during the 1960s.
The government set up the villages for rehabilitation of people who had lost their lands to floods in the perennially erosion-threatened Majuli and adjoining areas.
As on date, the sanctuary is fragmented into five clearly demarcated segments.
The ‘Gibbon Sanctuary, Melen’
On July 30, 1997, the Government of Assam issued a notification (FRS 37/97/31) and constituted the sanctuary as the ‘Gibbon Sanctuary, Meleng’
This sanctuary was located within Jorhat (civil) district of upper Assam.
The name – Gibbon Sanctuary, Meleng’ – has been derived from the gibbons (genus Hoolock), that is the only species of apes found in India.
This move assumes significance since this forest is the sole sanctuary in India named after a primate.
The distinction of ‘Gibbon Sanctuary, Meleng’ lies in the fact that these forests are home to a dense population of the gibbons (genus Hoolock).
The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’:
On May 25, 2004, the Government of Assam renamed it as the “Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary” through notification no. FRP 37/97/20.
The region surrounding ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ constitutes the dispersal track of elephants. This range of the endangered Asiatic elephants stretches up to the Dissoi Reserve Forest, Dissoi Valley Reserve Forest, and the Tiru Hill Reserve Forest.
The Asiatic Elephant:
The Asiatic elephant is also known as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).
This pachyderm is the only living species of the genus ‘Elephas’ is generally found across Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent (from India in the west, Borneo in the east, Nepal in the north, and Sumatra in the south.
The average lifespan of an Asiatic elephant is 48 years (Adult, In captivity, European population)
Included in the ‘Order’: ‘Proboscidea’, the mass of an adult Asiatic elephant ranges from 2,700 kg to 4,000 kg (Adult). It’s average height (at shoulder) varies from 2.4 m to 2.8 m.
The Surrounding Villages:
The villages neighboring ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ are Kaliagaon, Afolamukh, Velleoguri, Pukhurai, Katonibari,
Fesual B (the eastern part), Fesual A (the western part), Rampur, Lakhipur, and Madhupur.
The Elephant Range & Tea Estates:
The distance between the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ and the nearest forests along the Assam-Nagaland border including the Dissoi Valley Reserve Forest is spanned by three tea gardens.
These extensive tea gardens are managed by the tea estates of, Hollonguri, Kothalguri, and Dissoi.
The tea gardens include Katonibari, Murmurai, Chenijan, Koliapani, Meleng, Kakojan, Dihavelleoguri, Dihingapar, Kothalguri, Dissoi and Hoolonguri.
Classification, Biota & Habitat Of ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’
The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ is classified as “Assam plains alluvial semi-evergreen forests” along with some patches of wet evergreen forest.
Flora & Fauna:
The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ possesses quite a rich and varied treasure trove of biodiversity besides being the sole home to the only apes in India – the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and also the only nocturnal primate found in the northeast Indian States, the Bengal slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis).
Among the other primates identified in the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ are the capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus), stump-tailed macaque (Macaca arctoides), eastern Assamese macaque (Macaca assamensis assamensis), northern pig-tailed macaque (Macaca leonina), and the rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta).
Environmentalists, foresters, and researchers carrying out field studies and animal censuses inside the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ have also tracked other small and large animals including elephants, those from the cat family like jungle cats (Felis chaus), and Indian leopards (Panthera pardus).
The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ also has, among others, the wild boar (Sus scrofa) as well as four types of squirrels, and three types of civet.
Birds & Snakes:
The ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ is home to approximately 219 bird species and also several types of snake.
Environmentalists have further recorded 211 species of butterflies in the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
There are unfortunately reports that the tiger (Panthera tigris) is now extirpated in the ‘Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
The term ‘Extirpation’ (also known as ‘local extinction’) refers to the typical scenario when the population of a species ceases to exist across a particular geographical location.
The hoolock gibbons are three primate species of the genus ‘Hoolock hoolock’ in the gibbon family, Hylobatidae.
The hoolock gibbons are native to Northeast India, Myanmar, Southwest China, and eastern Bangladesh. Wikipedia
The scientific name of hoolock gibbon is ‘Hoolock’. Falling in the genus of ‘Hoolock hoolock’, it’s order is ‘Primates’.
The family of this species is ‘Hylobatidae’ and ‘Phylum’ is Chordata.
The ‘Kingdom’ of ‘hoolock gibbons’ is ‘Animalia’; and it’s Infraorder is ‘Simiiformes’.
Bengal Slow Loris:
The endangered ‘Bengal slow loris’ remains restricted to just some isolated populations.
This being of the ‘N. bengalensis’ species in the ‘Strepsirrhini’ Suborder’ and ‘Lorisidae’ family is facing serious threat.
It is almost becoming locally extinct in certain areas of the north-eastern Indian States of Assam and Meghalaya.
Similarly grave is their situation In Arunachal Pradesh, where the population of ‘Bengal slow loris’ is fast declining.
Flora Of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’
Generally, evergreen vegetation is found inside the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’. The evergreen vegetation is found in multiple layers that spread like a canopy
Varieties of evergreen herbs and shrubs make up the ground layers and the lower canopy of the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
The common evergreen herbs and shrubs found in the sanctuary include bamboo (Pseudostachyum polymorphum p.), Dolu bamboo (Teinosstachyum dullooa), Houka bet (Calamus spp.), Kaupat (Phrynium imbricatum), Tora (Alpinia allughas), and Sorat (Laported cremulata).
The central canopy of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ is dominated by the Nahor (Mesua ferrea) with its spreading crown that casts a handsomely heavy shade over an extensive area.
The other species that make up the central canopy of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ include the Dhuna (Conarium resiniferum), Bandordima (Dysoxylum procerum), Bhomora (Terminalia belerica), Bonbogri (Pterospermum lanceafolium), Ful Gomari (Gmelina sp.), Morhal (Vatica lanceafolia), Sassi (Aqualari agolacha), Selleng (Sapium baccatum), and Otenga (Dillenia indica).
The upper canopy of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ is mostly comprised of Dipterocarpus macrocarpus with straight trunks that rises from 39 ft to 98 ft (12 m to 30 m).
Among the other species found in the upper canopy of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ are Amari (Amoora wallichi), Sam (Artocarps chaplasha), Bhelu (Tetramels mudiflora), Sopas (Mcheliai spp.), Hingori (Castanopsis spp.) and Udal (Sterculia villosa).
Conservation Vis-A-Viz Tea Gardens:
A geographic barrier for migrating animals has been formed by the numerous tea gardens that surround the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
This barrier has isolated the sanctuary.
What is more, the rising populations of workers in these tea gardens has also posed a threat to the habitat of ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’.
This is particularly so as most of them depend on the forest for their traditional medicines, food and firewood.
Moreover, they cut significant quantities of grass and and leaves from the forests to feed their cattle.
Another disturbing factor is that pesticides and herbicides from several neighbouring tea gardens get washed through the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ especially during the rainy season.
The elephants habitually use the tea gardens in the he ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ as a migration route to Nagaland, and this aspect frequently exposes them to the poachers.
Railway Track & Gibbons:
The railway tracks passing through the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ have divided the park.
As a result, the railway lines have stranded single groups of gibbons into smaller fragments.
Habitat Degradation & Illegal Logging:
The quality of habitat in the ‘Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary’ has been degraded because of encroachments.
On the other hand, illegal logging has also taken a toll on the sanctuary.
The writer — Nilutpal Gogoi is an entrepreneur, senior journalist, writer, translator (from Assamese to English & vice versa), avid traveller, British English Accent & grammar trainer, educationist, and martial arts (Taekwondo) practitioner.