Assam's Tinsukia district is home to a little-known village where humans and apes rub shoulders without conflict, showing us that co-existence is complicated but possible
As soon as I moved away, the gibbon came down to accept the banana, a token of love from his friend. The gibbons prefer to peel the fruit on their own and eat.
“Oh, oh, I see it!” I screamed with joy. “Shhh, chillane se bhag jayega! (Don’t shout, they will run away!)” I got rebuked. “Poora insaan ki tarah hai (They look just like human beings),” I lowered my voice. “Ji saab, kehte hai insan inse-hi aaya hai (Yes sir, it is said that human beings have evolved from them),” he whispered back.
When I decided to pack my bags to visit a remote village in Assam’s Tinsukia district in search of the only ape species found in the Indian subcontinent, I was not expecting to witness such a strong bond between villagers and their unibrowed primate counterparts. Hoolock Gibbons are shy animals, and the chances of spotting them in the wild are considered extremely rare. But here in Barekuri, Western Hoolock Gibbons have inhabited and co-existed with humans for centuries. When I visited, I was surprised to see that the gibbons were comfortable enough to drop down from the canopy and accept tokens from the villagers, such as a banana.
Though Tinsukia is a well-known industrial town in Assam, not many people have heard of Barekuri village. Just 19km to the east of Tinsukia, the village is populated by tea estate workers and industrial labourers. The village sees heavy rainfall throughout the year, and in mid-September, though the monsoon had just wrapped up, the roads were still muddy and slippery. But thanks to the kindness of the people of Barekuri, I made it safely to my destination.
For the first few days, there was not a single gibbon in sight. But soon my luck turned, and I was able to follow a family of Western Hoolock Gibbons and document their interactions with the villagers.
Friday, 20 October, 2023
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