The picturesque Dima Hasao district is set to get its first protected forest, with a move afoot to create a national park comprising some of the most verdant and inaccessible jungles of the area. This will be Assam’s sixth national park – after Kaziranga, Manas, Nameri, Dibru-Saikhowa and Orang.
Significantly, the proposed protected area – Simleng River Impenetrable National Park covering some 100 sq km area – will form a large contiguous conservation belt together with the adjacent Borail Wildlife Sanctuary of Cachar
district and the Nampuh Wildlife Sanctuary of the bordering state of Meghalaya.
The Dima Hasao forest authorities have submitted a proposal to the North Cachar Hills (Dima Hasao) Autonomous Council for the creation of the national park.
“We are excited with the prospect of getting the first national park. Once the council approves it, a more detailed proposal will be sent to the State government,” a Dima Hasao forest official told media.
Ironically, despite forests covering over 80 per cent of Dima Hasao and making it Assam’s greenest district, it does not have a single protected forest, i.e., wildlife sanctuary or national park. This, in turn, has adversely affected wildlife conservation in the district.
“Little is known about Dima Hasao’s faunal and floral diversity as this invaluable natural wealth still awaits exploration, assessment and documentation. We have three reserve forests but those lack protection measures associated with wildlife sanctuaries and national parks,” the official added.
As of now, the district has Langtingmupa Reserve Forest (491.78 sq km), Khrungming Reserve Forest (122.88 sq km) and Borail Reserve Forest (48.50 sq km).
According to naturalist Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, Development Commissioner for Hill Areas, Government of Assam, who has done research on the Dima Hasao forests, the proposed national park would go a long way in meeting long-term conservation goals of the region.
“The terrain is almost inaccessible and the forests are verdant, impenetrable, and unexplored. Upgrading these forests to a national park will serve the region’s long-term conservation goals – more so because the area forms a single, contiguous complex with Borail and Nampuh wildlife sanctuaries,” he said.
Although little documentation has been done on the area’s flora and fauna, wide ranging mammals, reptiles and birds are known to be present there. These include tiger, elephant, serow, Himalayan black bear, hoolock gibbon, various macaques, jungle cats, clouded leopard, barking deer, sambar, etc. Its birdlife, too, is particularly impressive, with ornithologists suggesting that around 300 species could inhabit these areas. Its floral diversity adds another feature to the national park.
The lack of any conservation initiative in Dima Hasao is in sharp contrast to the early conservation efforts by British ornithologists in the area way back in the 19th century when Allan Octavian Hume, the pioneer of Indian ornithology (remembered more as one of the founders of the Indian National Congress) explored its pristine forests.
Dr Choudhury said that the proposed national park would also boost tourism in the district which boasts of Assam’s only hill station in its headquarters Haflong. “It abounds in tourism attractions with its scenic hills, sylvan forests, wildlife and a multi-hued ethnicity. The Simleng river and the Hajong lake add to its appeal,” he said.