Shillong: Two school-dropouts have started a crusade to save the highly endangered Western Hoolock Gibbons, their habitats, and birds in the forests of the remote East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.
Armed with a loaned camera, the two are also taking pictures of birds found in the forests for documentation of the winged species in the Hima Malaisohmat area.
Hima Malaisohmat, bordering Bangladesh, has five villages and the forest there is home to the endangered Hoolock Gibbons, the only ape found in Indian subcontinent.
"These apes are a favourite target for hunters. A family of three gibbons was killed by an unidentified hunter last month," said Banshim Wanniang, 22, one of the two crusaders. Wanniang took upon himself the task of protecting the wildlife in his Phlangwanbroi village, and his friend, Wallam Kharlyngdoh hailing from nearby Mawkasain village, joined him.
"It is very sad to see that the Hoolock Gibbons are disappearing at a very rapid rate from our forests. And so are our birds," said Wanniang.
With very little education, children of the villages are taught to hunt from an early age, and with no government intervention and rapid deforestation, the Hoolock habitats are disappearing at a fast rate, said Kharlyngdoh.
Wanniang and Kharlyngdoh told PTI that work is on to create awareness at the community level to conserve the wildlife and to provide alternative livelihoods to people so that they stop hunting. The two dropped out of school when they were in class 11 and now work in betel nut firms located inside the forest.
Asked how they knew about conservation, they said they did not like the killing of animals from their childhood, but the knowledge about conservation came after their visit to the Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
"A team of hunters and community elders had visited Kaziranga in April. We were also in that team because of our interest in wildlife," Kharlyngdoh, 24, said.
The visit was organised by a wildlife enthusiast who does not wish to be named. The team of around 30 people was taken to the park to learn how tourism could bring about a positive change of co-existence and conservation, Kharlyngdoh said.
Of those team members, the two were selected to undergo a month-long training at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Nagaland where they were trained in laying camera traps and basic wildlife photography.
"During the training, we learnt that there are at least 100 types of birds in our community forests and we have documented 25 of them," Kharlyngdoh said.
The two showed this correspondent at least 25 varieties of birds they had photographed and identified them with the help of a guidebook. Both the camera and the guidebook were given to them by the wildlife enthusiast, who was behind the project.
"We want to document all the animals and birds in the forest and print the pictures to create awareness in the community and for tourism purpose," Wanniang said.
A senior wildlife official of the Forest Department here told PTI on condition of anonymity that the department lacks manpower and resources for conservation. He, however, appreciated the job of the two youths.