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For India’s imperiled apes, thinking locally matters

23 / 05 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

A typical morning in the village of Phlangwanbroi starts with a melodious yet primitive-sounding song: drifting over from the nearby community forest, a series of whoops, hoots and tones rise in a crescendo. It’s hooleng jingrwai — the hoolock gibbon’s song. Perched atop a rain-soaked plateau in the Indian state of Meghalaya, Phlangwanbroi is a Khasi tribal village. The Khasis are a hill-dwelling indigenous minority numbering about 1.2 million within India. Located in the country’s remote mountainous northeast, most Khasis in rural Meghalaya continue to practice their hardscrabble traditional lifestyle, relying for the most part on subsistence agriculture and forest resources. Phlangwanbroi, four neighboring villages and an adjoining community forest make up the Khasi native state of Hima Malai Sohmat, one of 25 such traditionally ruled Khasi enclaves in Meghalaya that are formally recognized by the Indian Constitution. The 40-square-kilometer (15.4-square-mile) community forest of Hima Malai Sohmat has been home to western hoolock gibbons (Hoolock hoolock) since time immemorial, villagers say. But an ever-increasing human pressure is gnawing away at the forest, endangering the hooleng, as the species is called in the local Khasi language. The western hoolock gibbon is threatened globally, too. Conservationists say the future of the IUCN-listed endangered species is very much in jeopardy. An estimated 90 percent of its population has been lost over the past 30 years due to deforestation, hunting, and government neglect. Around 3,000 western hoolock gibbons are believed to remain, some 2,600 of them in northeastern India and the rest scattered in…

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