Meghalaya is an important stronghold of the Asian elephant ( Elephas maximus) in the north east region of India. Apart from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya is the only other state in the region that has a sizable elephant population, currently estimated to be in the region of 1800-2000 individuals. Within Meghalaya, the Garo Hills constitutes a stronghold for this animal with almost 1,100-1,200 animals (one of the seven populations of Asian elephants that is estimated to be over 1,000). Thus, making it a high priority population from the conservation point.
Within Garo Hills, Samrakshan's Integrated Conservation Development Intervention focuses on Balpakram Baghmara Community Conservation Landscape (BBCCL). The BBCCL, approximately 300 sq.km., is situated in the South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya. It is bound by the Balpakram National Park to the north, the Simsang river to the west, the West Khasi hills district to the east and Bangladesh to the south.
Balpakram National Park
Dr. M D Madhusudan
This landscape, seen in conjunction with the Balpakram National Park (220 sq.km) and the Baghmara Reserve Forest (44 sq.km), forms a fairly large (about 600 sq.km.), contiguous tract of habitat. Besides elephants t he BBCCL also harbours populations of gaur, tiger, clouded leopard and hoolock gibbon.
This is possibly the largest tract of habitat in Meghalaya that has best long-term possibility of conservation of elephants. Land use changes are relatively benign and no major infrastructure projects that could fracture the habitat are envisaged in the near future. Relative to East and West Garo Hills and certainly relative to other areas in India that harbour elephants, the intensity of human-elephant conflict is mild.
The BBCCL is also home to about 3,300 families of the Garo tribe spread over 33 Akings. An Aking, roughly translated, is a tract of land belonging to a particular clan. Each Aking is under the jurisdiction of a Nokma or headman, who, in conjunction with the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council is the final arbiter about the nature of land use in the Aking. Akings can vary in size from 3-4 sq.km to 20-30 sq.km and the land use in an Aking typically presents a mosaic of features like habitation (mostly wood and bamboo structures), jhum (shifting cultivation), wet terrace cultivation, orchards and homestead gardens, open forests and dense forests. The proportion of each category of land use varies from one Aking to another. The habitations are often spread over the Aking in clusters that form distinct hamlets. Hence in an Aking it is not uncommon to find 2-3 hamlets, each comprising of a few households.
Pic: Jens Gjonnes