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Canopy Bridges for Gibbons in Assam

Context: The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has allocated funds to build canopy bridges over a railway track that splits the primary habitat of India’s only ape species in eastern Assam.

Canopy Bridges

  • A canopy bridge is a type of wildlife crossing that is specifically designed for arboreal (tree-dwelling) species.
  • These bridges are constructed above the ground, usually connecting fragmented patches of forest that have been divided by roads, railways, or other human constructions.

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Key Features and Benefits of Canopy Bridges

  • Habitat Connectivity: Canopy bridges are crucial for restoring and maintaining habitat connectivity in fragmented landscapes.
    • They allow animals to move freely between different areas of their habitat, which is vital for accessing resources, finding mates, and maintaining healthy populations.
  • Reduction in Wildlife Mortality: By providing a safe route over dangerous obstacles like roads and railway tracks, canopy bridges help reduce the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions, which are a significant threat to many species.
  • Genetic Diversity: The bridges facilitate gene flow between isolated populations, which is essential for preventing inbreeding and ensuring long-term genetic diversity, crucial for the species’ resilience to environmental changes.
  • Design and Implementation: The construction of canopy bridges can be adapted to various environments and budgets, ranging from simple rope bridges to more sophisticated structures that mimic natural forest canopies.

About Hoolock Gibbon

  • Hoolock Gibbons, renowned for being the smallest and swiftest apes, reside in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia.
  • They are highly intelligent, exhibit unique personalities, and maintain strong familial ties, common traits in apes.
  • They are among the 20 species of gibbons globally and are the sole ape species found in India.
  • Characterised by their prominent white eyebrows, elongated arms, and a throat pouch used for vocalising.

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  • Arboreal Lifestyle and Challenges
    • Tree-Dwelling Habits: Gibbons are entirely tree-dwelling, spending their existence in the forest canopies.
    • Sensitivity to Habitat Changes: They are acutely affected by disruptions in their habitat, such as breaks in the canopy.
    • Risks of Habitat Fragmentation: Habitat division can cause genetic isolation and pose a risk to their populations.

Gibbon Varieties in India

Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock)

  • Geographic Spread: Found across northeastern India, specifically south of the Brahmaputra River and east of the Dibang River, and also in eastern Bangladesh and northwest Myanmar.
  • Conservation Status: Classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.

Eastern Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys)

  • Habitat: Inhabits areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India, and regions in southern China and northeast Myanmar.
  • Conservation Status: Listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.

Note: Both species are protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian (Wildlife) Protection Act of 1972.

Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Location: Nestled in the Jorhat district of Assam, India, lies the Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary (HGS), a haven for the endangered western hoolock gibbon.
  • Establishment and Geographical Area:  Formerly known as the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary or Hollongapar Reserved Forest is an isolated protected area of evergreen forest.
    • The sanctuary was officially constituted and renamed in 1997.
    • This protected area encompasses approximately 20.98 square kilometres, safeguarding the sanctuary’s rich biodiversity.
  • Unique Inhabitants: The HGS not only harbours India’s only gibbons but also serves as home to Northeastern India’s sole nocturnal primate, the Bengal slow loris.

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