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  • Swayamsiddha Mohapatra

INDIA'S ONLY APE


Hoolock Gibbon of Assam are the only apes in India. These beautiful primates are arboreal and are seen swinging around on trees. However, in the recent days diminishing habitats have posed a serious threat to these species. Forest clearances for tea cultivation, human habitation & sometimes traditional agriculture deprives the species of the much needed foliage for their movement i.e. brachiations. Also, with the loss of forest comes the challenge of finding nutrition and food to survive on.

Over a period of a week, I travelled to the north-eastern part of India to a tiny village called Barekuri where a brilliant interaction between the residents of the village and nearly two dozen resident wild Hoolock Gibbons had worked in the favour of these local Gibbons and had helped them thrive. For a resident of Barekuri, a Hoolock Gibbon is strongly woven into their myths and beliefs. However, despite these strong beliefs, a lot of the natural habitat for these Hoolocks has actually dwindled, even in Barekuri. The depleting Hoolock population became a major concern for the locals and an initiative to protect these apes was started. The aggressive initiative required several changes to the village starting from covering live wires to occasionally standing guard to the safety of these apes to educating posterity on conservation. Another problem that plagued the Hoolocks was lack of a constant healthy diet to feed on due to fragmentation and

severely reduced natural habitat. The villagers therefore as a sign of concern & love offer fruits while simultaneously replanting trees to add to the existing though low natural cover. Roaming in the village one would see fruits left behind for the apes. This has gone a long way in conserving the species- despite their challenges- to the tune that even the local forest department & conservationists have awarded the locals & their efforts.

While in Barekuri, I decided to tell my story through the story of the life of a family of 3 Gibbons-mother, father & baby. The family I was documenting was extremely skittish and would steal fruits when no one was looking. Hence for the shot, I set-up a remote camera with a trigger to capture the Gibbon family while they were mischievously stealing what was left behind for them anyways.

The picture is of Kaalia- a male from the Barekuri families of Hoolock Gibbon

Once, while the family was brachiating the female and the male had a spat and the male almost lost his grip. The local who had accompanied me silently whispered saying “My heart almost skipped a beat. Each Hoolock are deep emotional bonds & years of familiarity to my family and village”.


The strong connection was what I tried depicting through my wide-angle shots. The efforts of the locals though laudable is now also being supplemented by eco-tourism.


Through my photo-conservation story on Hoolock Gibbons I have tried to focus on emotively telling the story of Barekuri and how successful community focus can impact the long-term survival of a species. A three pronged strategy which involves making the current habitat sustainable to the propagation of Hoolock, supplementing and recognising the efforts of the local villagers through eco-tourism and aids & finally reaching mass awareness for future progenies to continue to love & revere the species is how the local community sees the Hoolocks in the vicinity being protected in wild.


The story is a part of my ongoing project in documenting the lives of endangered primates such as Chimpanzees, Golden Langurs, Hoolock Gibbons across India & Africa and how man-animal interaction & hyperlocal dynamics are shaping the future of these species- good in some places and devastative in others.


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