Travelling in the North-East in the summer of 2006
Guwahati >> Eaglenest >> Tawang >> Nameri >> Kaziranga >> Shillong >> Cherrapunjee
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My primary intent of travelling to Arunachal Pradesh was to participate in Vacation For Conservation project.
Vacation For Conservation was an idea conceived by Ramana Atreya of Kaati Trust, Pune towards conserving the wilderness and biodiversity of Eaglenest National Park. It is part of a larger project called ‘Eaglenest Biodiversity Project’, intended to save Eaglenest National Park from degradation and destruction.
Eaglenest National Park is located in the border of Arunachal Pradesh in West Kameng, adjoining Pakke Tiger Reserve in Assam. It is a region with widely varying altitudes – from 500m to as high as 3200m. The region has thickly wooded ever-green forest and has remained pristine except for a small mud-road that runs in the middle of the forest. But recently, the National Park’s survival was threatened by Indian Army’s decision to make a 2-lane all season road through the park. The website of Eaglenest Biodiversity Project lists the dangers that come with the road.
Until now Eaglenest has been protected by the inability of timber trucks to navigate the jeep track. While people indulged in some hunting the forest remained intact and has more-or-less recovered from the trauma of the construction of the first road 40 years ago. This protection is no longer valid. Some years ago the Indian army began widening the Eaglenest track to handle two lanes of their heavy truck traffic. They have also blasted new alignments in several sections devastating the fragile mountain terrain. Without going into the merits of the often twisted development v/s conservation debate it is clear that a regular highway will directly ruin more than 10% of the sanctuary area and furthermore will be a permanent canker through which the usual suspects — from indigent encroachers to timber merchants; from subsistence poachers to high society carnivores with a taste for wild meat — will ravage the area. At the moment the area has some breathing space with the Supreme Court staying all work on the road until final orders are passed.
The other threat to the National Park is common across all National Parks in India – man’s conflict with nature. There is pressure from the increasing population which assumes a right to its forests in the form of chopping wood, hunting animals, etc. Eaglenest Biodiversity Project hopes to address these issues to protect the park area.
VACATION FOR CONSERVATION(VFC)
VFC is an idea that is meant to make the forest work for generating income to the locals without destroying it. It focuses on eco-tourism with complete involvement of the locals and generate income for them. Eco-tourism worldwide was an idea conceived with the same intent, but soon lost its original goal and turned out to be a money making option for large hotel and resort chains. But in Eaglenest, it serving the right purpose via VFC. Birders and wildlife enthusiasts are invited to travel to Arunachal and visit Eaglenest and spend time learning about and studying the birds and other wildlife in the region. The local Bugund community will charge royalties for each day of stay in the park, which will be used for the benefit of the community. In effect, people around the park benefit by conserving the park area and are also restrained from damaging the forest.
For more about Eaglenest Biodiversity Project and VFC, visit the project webpage.
I was in Arunachal as part of the first ever group of VFC participants. We spent a week in Eaglenest and had a good time there identifying many rare species of birds that we do not get to see elsewhere in India. More on it will follow in the coming days.
To be continued…