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The call of the wild

Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary in Ri Bhoi is a must visit for adventurers & nature lovers

It was not easy to travel on the dilapidated road at Lailad in Jirang constituency that led to Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary. But the excitement of exploring the forest kept the spirit burning.
When we (a group of five journalists) reached the Lailad Inspection Bungalow inside the forest around 9 pm, it was pitch dark. The storm and the torrential rain earlier in the evening had disrupted power supply. As the car engine stopped roaring, the sound of Hoolock gibbons, one of the animal species found in the sanctuary, broke the silence. A night bird hummed, may be in response to the singing of the primates. The sound of the Umtrew river and the uninterrupted chirping of crickets also added to the forest symphony. Lights twinkled in the houses in a village across the river.
The trek inside the sanctuary, which is spread over 29 sqkm, started early next morning. Forester JM War led the visitors on the trail. The sanctuary has deer, pythons, elephants and clouded leopards, among other fauna and flora. But the forester eschewed kindling the hope of spotting any wild animal, saying, “They come out to drink water only at night and I am not sure whether anything can be spotted now.”

(Top) The signboard at the entrance to the sanctuary; an angler waits for his catch. (Photos by MM)

Nongkhyllem is also a sanctuary for various medicinal plants and herbs.
The visitors, untrained in travelling through jungles, were taken around the buffer zone.
“Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary in Ri Bhoi district has been found to be the best protected area in the North East as per the report on the management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries taken up during 2018-19 and released during January 2021 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,” said Anu James, Divisional Forest Officer, East Khasi Hills.
MEE is a key tool for protected area managers and is increasingly being used by governments and international bodies to understand the strength and weaknesses of the protected area management systems.
Besides, the Central Sector Scheme of Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats has been implemented with emphasis on protection management of wildlife habitat and scientific population estimation and study.
There are eight foresters at Nongkhyllem who go around the sanctuary every day in shifts. To a query, War said, “We have to be on our guard all the time as poaching is a reality here.”
The first stop was near an artificial mineral or salt lick, a place where animals come for essential mineral nutrients. There were hoof marks of Sambar deer and barking deer. War explained how one can identify the marks from their shape and size. There are six more mineral licks inside the sanctuary, all of them natural. About 20 cameras inside the forest keep track of the wildlife population and its movement.
Leeches can be a discouraging factor and deterred many in the group from proceeding further. The experienced forester came to the rescue.
The forest trail, lined by a wide variety of flora, took a turn from an old watch tower towards the Umtrew, which flows as a stream inside the sanctuary before expanding in volume. There were more hoof marks of bison and deer near the stream, which is a source of drinking water for the wildlife.
“Meghalaya has a record of fairly good management practices. Management plan has been in place since 2001 and there is a continuity in terms of protected area management. There are also prospects of increasing landscape continuity as efforts are on to increase protected areas from the vicinity with the support of the community,” James said.

Animal foot marks near the artificial salt lick. (Photo by MM)

The state government has an array of projects for Nongkhyllem to make it more interesting for visitors. “The Forest Department is planning Jungle Safari. We are doing the groundwork and within a month, we will float tenders. Besides, there is a plan for trekking with guides, bird watching and setting up of an interpretation centre, which will provide information to visitors and researchers about the place and specifics about its flora and fauna,” said Manjunath C, Secretary at the department.
There is also a plan to start canopy walk to get the feel of rainforest like in the case of Amazon forests. “We will also go for jeep safari and cycling,” Manjunath added.
When asked about the decrepit road leading to the sanctuary, the forest secretary informed that there is a World Bank project to upgrade the road from the highway to the toll plaza and this will be extended up to Lailad.
However, the road starting from wildlife sanctuary will be kept intact, and if required, stones will be paved. For inexperienced visitors to the place, leeches can be a threat and the government is planning to start traditional treatment for those affected.
The Hoolocks do not sing in the morning, War explained. Instead, the sanctuary was reverberating with the sounds and songs of crickets and different species of birds. “If one is lucky, one can spot elephants here. According to the 2017 census, 12 elephants were found here. Deer can be spotted too. Let’s try our luck,” he added.
We did not have the luck to spot any wildlife, which dampened the mood of a few in the group. Nonetheless, the adventure of exploring the wilderness and experiencing life amid the forest was not diminished even by an iota.

~ Team Sunday Monitor

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