In India’s Garo Hills, supporters of World Land Trust have shown the power of biodiversity protection run in tandem with local communities. Since 2003, projects in the area have helped to protect thousands of hectares of elephant corridors, preserving both extraordinary landscape and the unique lives and people of the area.
Read on to learn more about Project Mongma Rama, and how you can help protect this wonderful area.
World Land Trust
World Land Trust are a leading conservation charity, supporting a network of partners to protect some of the world’s most threatened habitats. They work closely with a network of 35 conservation organisations around the world. Each one is local, with knowledge and expertise within their specific contexts. They own and manage the land that World Land Trust fundraise for; World Land Trust provide financial and technical assistance, but don’t manage them. This allows local communities and initiatives to operate in the ways they know best and with on the ground knowledge of the area.
When land is under the management of these partners, options are explored such as restoring deforestated land and degraded habitats and connecting previously fragmented forest patches. This is done by either tree planting or removing threats that allow forests to naturally regenerate. Partners also employ individuals from the local area as rangers for ongoing management, protecting threatened habitats and biodiversity while remaining within local communities.
The Garo Hills
Undulating over an area of 8167 sq km, the Garo Hills are located in the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya. This landscape includes the Garo Hills Elephant Reserve which spreads over 3500 sq km, the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, three protected areas and five elephant corridors, together supporting about 800-1000 elephants.
Meghalaya is the world’s rainiest region; home to dense forest canopy over foothills that range from the Bangladesh delta plains in the south to Himalayan peaks in the north. This habitat supports incredibly rich biodiversity, as its part of the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot. The Garo Hills hosts 206 bird species, 62 reptile species, 124 fish species, 14 amphibian species, and 85 mammal species including Western Hoolock Gibbons, India’s only ape and an endangered species that is uniquely vulnerable to losing the safety of trees.
While magnificent, this landscape is also incredibly vulnerable, as the Indo-Burma is one of the most threatened biodiversity hotspots on Earth. Agricultural practices like slash-and-burn cultivation have fragmented the forests, preventing wildlife movement and increasing human-wildlife conflict, especially with elephants. New infrastructure also risks exposing the landscape to new dangers: opening roads could bring mining projects targeting the area’s rich mineral deposits, and with it the ancestral landscape and way of life of the Garo people. These communities have been in the area for generations, originally migrating from Tibet in around 400 BC. Unless something is done the area, and the Garo people’s ways of living, could change irrevocably.
A history of protection
In 2003, World Land Trust and Wildlife Trust of India formed an alliance to safeguard the Garo Hills. Currently, only around 8% of the forested area in the Garo Hills is under the control of the Meghalaya Forest Department; the remaining area is owned by local communities under the management and jurisdiction of the Garo Hills Autonomous District Council (GHADC). Wildlife Trust of India and World Land Trust partnered with the GHADC and the state forest department over a decade ago, aiming to connect the fragmented forest patches located between the West Garo Hills and Nokrek National Park. The eventual goal is to establish an unbroken wilderness link with Balpakram National Park, maintaining a network of forest patches forming the backbone of the region’s biodiversity: the Garo Green Spine.
The Garo Green Spine project operates on a simple premise. The Garo people form reserves to conserve their own land; benefitting from the area’s protection alongside the herds of elephants who move through the Garo area as they travel along the India-Bangladesh border. In the Garo area high elephant numbers don’t result in high rates of human-wildlife conflict, as can happen in other regions. The forest left in Garo is enough for both herds and villages to have the space they need, perfectly encapsulating how there is enough for everyone within thriving ecosystems.
World Land Trust supporters have made this work possible since 2003, protecting an area that supports around 1000 Elephants, crucial biodiversity and local communities. The impact has been significant, with 4,000 ha (9,884 acres) protected across three crucial elephant corridors. 20 villages have also joined an initiative that has given them support for healthcare and sustainable development, computer centres, teachers, bridges and more.
While The Garo Green Spine demonstrates the ways biodiversity can flourish when local Indigenous land rights are respected, there is also more to be done.
Project Mongma Rama
Currently, World Land Trust are working to expand how much of the Garo Hills is protected, strengthening resilience against fragmentation and degradation. Over the next five years they can safeguard another 9,880+ acres with public help, bringing the Spine to near completion and securing an almost completely contiguous network of protected areas stretching 50 miles from east to west.
Donations to World Land Trust’s new appeal will fund the protection of 4,900-6,170 acres of that total, extending the network of protected corridors. Land will remain owned by local Garo communities, who will decide which sections they want to set aside for conservation while receiving health and education support, new sustainable livelihoods, support for the preservation of traditional Garo culture, and other community support activities.
Additionally, Wildlife Trust of India has secured complementary funding from a corporate supporter. Overall, funds will help them protect a total of 4,000 ha through community-run reserves; restore 400 ha through 300,000 native trees; hire five watchers from local communities, and bring a total of 35,000 ha under biodiversity-friendly community plans.
Donations to this new appeal will fund the following work from 2021 to 2026:
- Protection of 2,000 ha through community-run reserves and key biodiversity areas
- Restoration of 170 ha through the planting of 125,000 native tree
- Enlisting of at least three watchers from the local community
From 2021 to 2030, these funds will also allow Wildlife Trust of India to bring a further 15,000 ha under biodiversity-friendly community plans.
The IUCN lists corridor protection among the top Asian Elephant conservation actions: connectivity means safety for the female clans as they roam for food and shelter, and for the wandering males that are so key to the species’ long-term genetic diversity. This is precisely what your donations will support: a corridor strategically placed to connect a network herds can use to safely travel within this sector of Meghalaya State