Meet the two dropouts-turned-crusaders from Meghalaya who are trying to save an animal species from extinction


SHILLONG, June 26, 2018: Two school dropouts have started a crusade to save the highly-endangered western hoolock gibbons, their habitats, and birds in the forests of the remote East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya.

Armed with a loaned camera, the two are also taking pictures of birds found in the forests for documentation of the winged species in the Hima Malaisohmat area.

Hima Malaisohmat, bordering Bangladesh, has five villages and the forest there is home to the endangered hoolock gibbons. "These apes are a favourite target for hunters. A family of three gibbons was killed by an unidentified hunter last month," said Banshim Wanniang, 22, one of the two crusaders.

Wanniang is protecting the wildlife in Phlangwanbroi village and his friend, Wallam Kharlyngdoh, hailing from nearby Mawkasain village, has joined him.

"It is very sad to see that the hoolock gibbons are disappearing at a very rapid rate from our forests. And so are our birds," said Wanniang.

With very little education, children of the villages are taught to hunt from an early age, and with no government intervention and rapid deforestation, the hoolock habitats are disappearing at a fast rate, said Kharlyngdoh.

Wanniang and Kharlyngdoh said work is on to create awareness at the community level. The two dropped out of school when they were in Class XI and now work in betel nut farms inside the forest.

They said they did not like killing of animals, but the knowledge about conservation came after their visit to the Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

"A team of hunters and community elders had visited Kaziranga in April. We were also in that team because of our interest in wildlife," Kharlyngdoh, 24, said.

The team of around 30 people was taken to the park to learn how tourism could bring about a positive change of co-existence and conservation, Kharlyngdoh said.

The two were selected to undergo a monthlong training at the Wildlife Conservation Society in Nagaland where they were trained in laying camera traps and basic wildlife photography.

"We want to document all the animals and birds in the forest and print the pictures to create awareness in the community and for tourism purpose," Wanniang said.

A senior wildlife official of the forest department here said the department lacks manpower and resources for conservation. He, however, appreciated the job of the two youths.