In a heart-wrenching turn of events, Kalia, a female gibbon and victim of poaching, succumbed to illness in Barekuri village, located in Assam’s Tinsukia district. The Assam Forest Department stands accused of negligence in the tragic incident.
Kalia had been battling a mysterious ailment for the past few days, her condition steadily deteriorating. Ranadeep Duara, a prominent Facebook user and digital creator, expressed the somber news earlier today, lamenting, “Kalia gol goy… Kalia is no more. Beloved by all, Kalia has departed. Those visiting Barekuri Hoolock Gibbons Park will no longer have the privilege of encountering her. Despite repeated alerts to the department, no treatment was provided for Kalia. This morning, we bid farewell to her.”
“Barekuri, meaning ‘twelve times twenty,’ is a confluence of numerous small villages forming a larger community. Hoolocks have coexisted harmoniously with humans here for over a century. These reticent creatures venture out of their forested habitat and comfortably settle in the gardens and orchards. However, due to electrification, poaching, and deforestation, their numbers have witnessed a precipitous decline over the last two decades.”
While some of these creatures are nurtured by locals and even considered part of their families, not all tales end happily. Feeding wildlife, though well-intentioned, proves detrimental for both the animals and humans alike. Golden langurs in Guwahati’s Umananda island, for instance, have become accustomed to tourist-fed diets. This alters their behavior, jeopardizes their health, and increases their susceptibility to infections and conflicts.
The hoolock gibbon holds profound cultural significance in Assamese heritage, finding resonance in songs and folklore. For the Idu Mishmis in Arunachal Pradesh, gibbons are revered as their forebears, and harming them is deemed a bad omen. This belief safeguards them from hunting.
In Meiteilon Manipuri, these apes are referred to as ‘yongmu’ or black monkeys. Legend has it that a young girl from the Malangmei clan transformed into a hoolock after fleeing her home due to accusations of laziness. She never returned to the village. Manipuris hold gibbons in high regard as their totemic animals.
In Meghalaya’s Garo hills, sacred groves provide a secure haven for these arboreal creatures. They are venerated as ancestors, and residents of Selbagre and Rensangre villages often serve as guides, leading tourists into the forest to witness these magnificent beings.
Yet, despite their revered status, gibbons face severe threats, not only from human interaction but also from habitat fragmentation. Classified as ‘endangered’ by the IUCN, their population has dwindled by a staggering 90% over the past three decades. This decline is attributed to the increasing isolation of their habitats. In the 1970s, Assam, along with other northeastern states, supported a population of up to 80,000 individuals, but today, a mere 2,600 remain.
Hoolocks are particularly vulnerable due to their predominantly arboreal lifestyle. Their movement through the treetops, known as ‘brachiation,’ allows them to cover distances of up to 1.6 km daily in search of sustenance, primarily fruit and occasionally lichen. Consequently, any disruption in the forest canopy can prove fatal, whether it be roads, farms, or tea gardens.
The demise of Kalia has left wildlife advocates across Assam and the entire northeastern region in a state of profound shock and sorrow. The tragedy underscores the urgent need for heightened conservation efforts and greater vigilance from authorities to safeguard these precious creatures.