News from the Field

July 2004

As some of you may be aware, Samrakshan has recently initiated a new field project in the South Garo Hills district of Meghalaya. This Integrated Conservation and Development Project (ICDP) initiative focuses on affecting conservation of habitats critical for wildlife, particularly the Asian elephant, through livelihood security of communities that share the landscape with wildlife. This is in addition to Samrakshan's ongoing intervention with communities on the periphery of Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary.

Though our involvement in this region dates back to about 12 months, a full time dedicated team, comprising primarily of local persons, has been in place for the last 2 months. The team is based in Baghmara, the headquarters of the South Garo Hills district, on the international border with Bangladesh.

Setting up of a functional office in an area like Baghmra presents significant logistical challenges, which our team has been coping with. The onset of monsoon has further compounded difficulties. Early days of this initiative are being devoted to intensive capacity building of the team. The assistance of the North East Community Resource Management Project (NERCRMP) has been enlisted for equipping our team with skills in the areas of community mobilisation and building local people's institutions. As has been established through the experience of ICDPs across the world, and more recently through the experience of the India ecodevelopment Project, local people's institutions form the cornerstone of
successful ICDPs. Our team has so far visited two clusters of villages in the West Garo Hills where the NERCRMP is active. In addition, NERCRMP personnel based in Tura have extensively briefed Samrakshan team members in various aspects of community mobilisation.

In addition to assisting with social mobilisation, the NERCRMP's
considerable expertise with impacting land use is also being sought. Various models of tempering land use in favour of wildlife and livelihood security of communities will be attempted as part of Samrakshan's initiative in the Garo hills.

The WWF AREAS team based in Tezpur in Asssam and working in the North bank Landscape has been approached for assistance with acquainting Samrakshan team members with basics of elephant ecology and behaviour. The Samrakshan team accompanied WWF personnel in the field during the first week of June. Over time we also hope to draw upon their expertise in dealing with human-elephant conflict.

Further training programmes on a variety of aspects are being scheduled in the coming months

At the outset, two A'kings (tracts of community lands) have been selected as part of Samrakshan's work - Alokpang and Ampangre, are both situated north of the Baghmara Reserve Forest and constitute the assemblage of community owned lands sandwiched between the Balphakram National Park and the Baghmara Reserve Forest. Rapport building activities have been initiated in two ofthe villages that are located in these A'kings. Night halts and villagelevel meetings to acquaint the people with Samrakshan's objectives and to seek their concurrence are also currently being undertaken.

Incidents such as the recent kidnapping of the DFO of the Balphakram National Park Division underline the uncertain security climate in which our team operates. Though the officer in question was released after a fortnight in captivity, the situation in the region continues to pose significant challenges.

We will continue to release periodic updates of our work as it develops. Please keep in touch with our website (www.samrakshan.org) for details. We will welcome any questions or queries that you may have. Please send us an email - nimesh@samrakshan.org

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