Site location and ownership
The Western Garo Hills is located in Meghalaya State, bordering Assam to the north and east and Bangladesh to the south and west.
The WLT is working with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), a non-governmental organisation working with local communities and government agencies to protect India’s wildlife.
The project area sits within an undulating plateau containing three hill ranges, Khasi, Jaintia and Garo.
The West Garo Hills project is focused on the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), some 2000 of which live within Meghalaya State, and the Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock), which is confined to north-east India, Bangladesh and north-west Myanmar.
The Western Garo Hills forests are suffering attrition through small-scale, traditional slash and burn farming. Historically, the rotation cycle for this shifting cultivation was 20 – 30 years; however a reduction in land availability has meant that the cycle has shortened to 1 – 5 years. Because crops can be cultivated on cleared areas for only a few years, farmers are moving on to clear regenerating forest sooner.
This cumulative forest degradation and loss is having a serious impact upon the area’s biodiversity, restricting movements of both Gibbons and Elephants and reducing habitat quality.
The WTI is working with local Nokmas (village heads) to identify Village Reserve Forest areas on community-owned land upon which forest protection and restoration can take place. The Ecosystem Services team is supporting this through its reforestation programme.
WLT reforestation programme
WLT-supported reforestation at the Western Garo Hills commenced in 2009, and it is intended that WTI will establish 95,000 trees through enrichment planting and assisted natural regeneration by 2012.
A holding nursery, at which up to 10,000 locally-collected saplings can be held prior to planting, was constructed adjacent to Selbagre Village Reserve Forest during 2009. Up to 40 local families are employed to collect ‘wildlings’ (sapling trees and shrubs collected from nearby natural forest areas) which they grow on at home until ready to transfer to the holding nursery for subsequent planting out in the reforestation areas.
Seedlings selected include those that will ultimately form the forest canopy but are slow to colonise Macaranga-dominated regenerating areas. Fruiting species are also favoured to ensure food resources are rapidly available for fruit-eating Gibbons, enabling them to venture beyond mature forest patches.
Local families benefit from employment opportunities through collection and growing on of wildlings. Village members have also been employed to undertake tree establishment and maintenance. Locally-recruited villagers also conduct patrols to discourage illegal timber collecting and grazing.
WTI has established a sustainable development programme through which solar lanterns have been provided.