Manas National Park (26º48'N, 91º04'E) is a World Heritage Site located on the borders of the Indo-Gangetic and Indo-Malayan biogeographical realms which give it great natural diversity. It lies on a gentle alluvial slope in the foothills of the Himalayas, where wooded hills give way to grasslands and tropical forest and is home to a great variety of wildlife, including many endangered species such as the tiger, the pygmy hog, and the Indian rhinoceros and elephant.
Threats to the Site
The Committee included this site on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992, after it had been invaded by militants of the Bodo tribe seeking political redress. Its infrastructure suffered great damage from 1988 to 1993, and political instability between 1990 and 1996 led to the destruction of hundreds of trees and animals, including some 50% of the Park's rhinoceros and 30% of its tigers. The damage to the sanctuary, estimated at more than two million US dollars, was confirmed by a joint monitoring mission of the Government of India with the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in January 1997.
Listing by the Committee influenced the governments of India and the state of Assam to draw up, with the Park authorities, a $US2.35 million rehabilitation plan. Implementation began in 1997 and is progressing satisfactorily. Security in and around Manas has improved, but the threat of insurgency still prevails in the state and militants often cross the Park. Nevertheless, relations with local villagers appear to be improving. A Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC)/World Conservation Union (IUCN) mission visited the site in early 2002 with the additional aim of promoting the nomination of the adjacent Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan as a World Heritage site in order to improve the protection of the Manas ecosystem on both sides of the international border.
The park lies on the border with Bhutan, 41[ [meter|kilometers]] (km) north of Barpeta Road township. It spans the Manas River and is bounded on the north by the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, on the south by the populous region of North Kamrup and on both east and west by forest reserves: 26°30'-27°00'N, 90°50'-92°00'E.
Date and History of Establishment
- 1907: Part of the area was classified as North Kamrup Forest Reserve.
- 1927: More land was added.
- 1928: Manas (previously North Kamrup) declared a Sanctuary for rhino (36,000 hectares (ha)).
- 1955: Enlarged to 39,100 ha.
- 1971: The government set up an 890 ha seed farm in the Sanctuary as a result of local encroachment pressures.
- 1973: Established as the core of the Manas Tiger Reserve. Project Tiger set up to preserve the Indian population.
- 1990: The Sanctuary was upgraded to a National Park and enlarged to 52,000 ha by the inclusion of the former Panbari, Koklabari and Kahitama Forest Reserves.
52,000 ha, forming the core of Manas Tiger Reserve (283,712 ha). It includes all of North Kamrup Forest Reserve, part of Manas Forest Reserve, and is contiguous with Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan (65,800 ha).
State, in the districts of Barpeta and Kokrajhar. Administered by the Assam Forest Department.
Ranges from 61 meters (m) to 11 m.
The Park, which is of great physical beauty, lies on a wide low-lying alluvial terrace below the foothills of the outer Himalaya. The Manas River flows through the west of the park, where it splits into two separate rivers, the Beki and Bholkaduba, to join the River Brahmaputra some 50 km further south. These and five small rivers running through the Reserve carry enormous amounts of silt and rock from the foothills as a result of heavy rainfall, steep gradients and friable bedrock upstream. Over the limestone and sandstone bedrock of the Bhabar savanna area in the north, this has formed shifting river channels and swamps and a soil of porous alluvial terraces of coarse detritus under layers of sandy loam and humus where the water table is very low. The Terai grasslands in the south consist of deep deposits of fine alluvium with underlying pans where the water table lies very near the surface, making it potentially useful farmland. The Manas basin in the west of the park, is frequently flooded during the monsoon but never for very long due to the sloping relief. Drowning of wildlife is negligible as animals are able to take refuge on islands of high ground.
The climate is warm and humid with up to 76% relative humidity. It rains from mid-March to October with most rain falling during the monsoon months from mid-May to September, flooding the western half of the Reserve. The mean annual rainfall is 3330 millimeters (mm). November to February is relatively dry when the smaller rivers dry up and large rivers dwindle. The mean maximum summer temperature is 37 degrees Celsius (°C) and the mean minimum winter temperature is 5°C.
Manas lies on the borders between the Indo-Gangetic and Indo-Malayan biogeographical realms. This gives it great natural diversity. There are three main types of vegetation: sub-Himalayan alluvial semi-evergreen forest, east Himalayan mixed moist and dry deciduous forests, the commonest type, and grasslands. Much of the riverine dry deciduous forest is an early successional stage, being constantly renewed by floods. It is replaced by moist deciduous forest away from water courses, which is succeeded by semi-evergreen climax forest in the northern part of the park. Its common trees include Aphanamixis polystachya, Anthocephalus chinensis, Syzygium cumini, S. formosum, S. oblatum, Bauhinia purpurea, Mallotus philippensis, Cinnamomum tamala, Actinodaphne obvata; Tropical moist and dry deciduous forests are characterised by Bombax ceiba, Sterculia villosa, Dillenia indica, D. pentagyna, Careya arborea, Lagerstroemia parviflora, L.speciosa, Terminalia bellirica, T. chebula, Trewia polycarpa, Gmelina arborea, Oroxylum indicum and Bridelia spp.
Two types of alluvial grasslands cover almost 45% of the Park: low alluvial savanna woodland and semi-evergreen alluvial grassland. These are created and maintained by burning, and on a smaller scale, by elephants. The riparian grasslands are the best tiger habitat in India, and also well suited to the unique wild buffalo herds, gaur and barasingha, elephants and waterbirds. There are 43 different grass species, Imperata cylindrica, Saccharum naranga, Phragmites karka and Arundo donax predominating. There is also a variety of tree and shrub species such as Dillenia pentagyna which dominates the swamp forest, silk cotton Bombax ceiba a dominant of the savanna woodland, and Phyllanthus emblica, and shrub species of Clerodendrum, Leea, Grewia, Premna, Mussaenda, Sonchus, Osbekia and Blumera. There is a wide variety of aquatic flora along river banks and in the numerous pools. Some 374 species of dicotyledons, including 89 trees, 139 species of monocotyledons and 15 species of orchid have been identified.
A total of 55 mammals, 50 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded, several species being endemic. Manas contains 22 of India's Schedule I mammals and at least 33 of its animals listed as threatened (* below), by far the greatest number of any protected area in the country. Many are typical of south-east Asian rain forest and have their westernmost distribution there, while other species are at the easternmost point of their range. It has the second largest population of tigers and the third largest population of rhinoceros in India. Before the tribal incursions, the populations of all the protected species were gradually increasing, including that of the indicator species, the tiger.
The mammal fauna includes *Indian pangolin Manis crassicaudata, *golden langur Presbytis geei (R), rare, recently discovered and endemic to Manas and adjoining Bhutan which numbered only 305 in 1980, *capped langur Trachypithecus pileata, *hoolock gibbon Hylobates hoolock, *hispid hare Caprolagus hispidus (E, giant squirrel Ratufa indica, *particolored flying squirrel Hylopetes alboniger, *Ganges dolphin Platanista gangeticus (E), Asiatic wild dog Cuon alpinus (V), *sloth bear Melursus ursinus, black bear Selenarctos thibetanus, *slow loris Nycticebus coucang, *binturong (bearcat) Arctictis binturong, *tiger Panthera tigris (E), numbering 70 in 2000, down from 123 in 1990, (PA Update,2001), *clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa (V), *leopard P. pardus, *golden cat Felis temmincki (I), *fishing cat F. viverrinus (K), *leopard cat F. bengalensis, *marbled cat F. marmorata (K), *Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E), with up to 2,000 in the tiger reserve and more than 1,000 moving freely between the Indian and Bhutan Manas reserves, *Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (E), 80 in 1990, 39 in 1997, *pygmy hog Sus salvanius (E), rediscovered in 1964 in Manas, *swamp deer or barasingha Cervus duvauceli (V), with approximately 450 individuals, sambar or spotted deer C. unicolor, hog deer Axis porcinus, chital A. axis, barking deer Muntiacus muntjac, *gaur Bos gaurus (V) and Asiatic wild water buffalo Bubalus arnee (V), probably the only pure strain of this species in India.
Including migrants, over 450 species of birds have been recorded and about 350 breed in the area, 16 being endemic including the threatened *Bengal florican Eupodotis bengalensis (E), a type of bustard, *great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis and *wreathed hornbill Rhyticeros undulatus among other hornbill species. The *Bengal floricans of the National Park were estimated at 80 individuals with 24 male territories in the park in 1988; this is a fifth of the world population. Pied harrier Circus melanoleucos nested during 1988 and 1989, the first confirmed record for India. Uncommon waterfowl species include *spotbilled pelican Pelecanus philippinensis (V), *greater adjutant stork Leptoptilos dubius (E) and *lesser adjutant stork L. javanicus (V). 50 reptile species include the *gharial Gavial gangeticus, possibly introduced from Bhutan or from a captive breeding program, eleven species of snake including vine snake Ahaetulla nasutas, flying snake Chrysopelea ornata, Assam trinket snake Elaphe frenata, king cobra Ophiophagus hannah, *Indian rock python Python molurus, and banded krait Bangarus fasciatus; also *yellow and *water monitor lizards Varanus flavescens and V. salvator, and three rare turtles: *Assam roofed turtle Kachuga sylhetensis (K), lost until 1988, sawbacked terrapin K. salvator and eastern hill terrapin Melanochelys trijuga.
Manas takes its name from the Goddess Manasa. The forests of the Reserve were traditionally inhabited and their resources used mainly by Bodo and Adhivasi tribesmen. There are no archaeological remains.
Local Human Population
Some 57 villages with 28,800 inhabitants live on the fringe of the National park, predominantly Bodo tribal people. Surrounding forests, originally tribal lands used for grazing and tree products, have been logged by the timber and paper industries for a pittance, and immigrant farmers have illegally purchased the cleared land. This has so alienated the tribals that they prefer to see the jungle razed than let outsiders take it. This, and their growing numbers, has forced villagers into using the protected forests. Denial of access has caused conflict and antagonism towards the National Park. Political pressure from this growing population, driven by feelings of deprivation and neglect, may become the greatest threat to the future of the Park.
Visitors and Visitor Facilities
A forest bungalow at Mothanguri, in the north of the Park, provides dormitory accommodation for 48 persons. A number of rest houses and camp sites were also available. The Tourist Department of Assam conducted tours, especially in the Mothanguri-Bansbari area, including boat trips down the river and elephant rides. Some 5,000 local sightseers used to visit during winter holidays, disturbing the wildlife. They may in future have to be accommodated nearer the edge of the Park. Owing to the Bodo agitation in Assam, the park was closed between 1989 and 1995, but in 1996 there were again some 2,770 visitors. However, in 2001, foreign visitors still needed a permit to enter the park and did so at their own risk.
Scientific Research and Facilities
The vegetation has been surveyed by the Botanical Survey of India. Tiger and elephant censuses are regularly undertaken by Project Tiger. The status of the Bengal florican was investigated in May 1984. In 1993, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) initiated a project to identify the essential needs of the fringe villagers to provide alternatives to their dependence on the Park.
Lying at the confluence of the Indo-Gangetic and Indo-Malayan biogeographical realms Manas has great natural diversity as well as spectacular scenery. Its varied habitats support 22 scheduled species, and it is the richest in species of all Indian wildlife areas. It is the core of an extensive tiger reserve that protects an important migratory corridor for elephants and other wildlife along the West Bengal - Arunachal Pradesh - Bhutan borders. Its wetlands are of international importance. It is also the single most important site for the survival of golden langur, pygmy hog and hispid hare.
The Assam Forest Department is responsible for the administration of the National Park. Its management was a low priority until the 1960s, but its inaccessibility protected it except for marginal encroachments and livestock grazing by villagers which were eliminated during that decade, to local resentment. The Park is essentially a wilderness, forming the core of the Tiger Reserve which is classified as reserve forest. The last legal forestry in the core area occurred in 1964. Hunting officially ceased when the area was established as a sanctuary, but before the Bodo invasion, traditional hunting did not have noticeable effects on the wildlife. Much stone was extracted from the area during the construction of the National Highway in 1963-1964 but no further exploitation of any kind is now allowed in the park. Plantations were created along the southern border as a buffer against agricultural encroachment but this stopped in 1977. The restrictions do not apply to the surrounding buffer zone of the Tiger Reserve, which is managed on a multiple-use basis. There, residents are allowed to selectively remove timber, collect firewood, cultivate land and graze their domestic livestock and benefit from inoculation of their cattle, to prevent diseases being transmitted to the wildlife.
More intensive management was begun in the 1960s. Carefully controlled burning in autumn is the most important management tool to maintain the different habitats, especially the grassland. It is both a traditional practice and done to prevent devastation by wildfires. Management has always been oriented towards the larger mammals, especially the tiger. The Project Tiger scheme has provided staff accommodation, marked boundaries, developed roads and a wireless network to improve anti-poaching operations. A rhino action plan been prepared under the Biodiversity Alliance co-ordinated by the M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation and WWF-India. Following successful captive breeding of gharial, there were also plans to restock channels in the area. A management plan to include measures of social welfare such as the provision of water, medical and veterinary care and farming advice was drawn up and a three year rehabilitation program was prepared by the Ministry for Environment and Forests, the State Forest Department of Assam and the Directorate of Manas. This aimed to restore the infrastructure, and set up eco-development schemes for surrounding villages and habitat improvement programs. Relations with local villagers appeared to be improving: volunteer groups from the local Green Manas and Manas Bandhu slowly began to persuade local militants to help conserve not destroy the Park. By mid 2002, the latest management plan was finalized and awaiting approval by the state government. Camps and guard posts had been rebuilt, allowing better management and the government had included the reserve in Project Elephant and was facilitating committees on participatory planning and economic development projects. Relations with Bhutan are very good despite the present scale of poaching and insurgency. A WHC/IUCN mission visited the site in early 2002 with the additional role of promoting the nomination of the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan as a future World Heritage Site and part of a transboundary park to improve the protection of the whole Manas ecosystem on both sides of the border.
The Indian National Forest Policy Act of 1952 held the poor responsible for deforestation and stated that national forests should be used to produce timber for industry and commerce, not for subsistence, on the ground that where land is owned rather than held in common, it is usually treated with care. The park was therefore made a Sanctuary without provision of alternative resources for the local people who continually encroach on it as though it was still open to them. The Tiger Reserve as a whole remains intact, although the buffer zone has suffered many encroachments, especially between Sankosh in the far west and the Manas river, which have led to haphazard fragmentation of the forest. There is no buffer to the south, and village communities on the edge of the reserve collect grasses, fuel, wood, fodder, timber and graze their livestock in the Park. Villagers believe that these uses are their by right, denied to them since the designation of the Tiger Reserve in 1973. Uncontrolled dry season burning and unsustainable levels of hunting and extraction of timber and firewood occur in the buffer zone, and tigers are persecuted. This must be set against frequent damage to the villagers' animals, crops and houses by large predators, elephants, wild boar and deer from the Park and, during 1979-83 for example, 11 deaths caused by a man-eating tiger for which no compensation was paid. Crop-raids by elephant and hog-deer are increasingly common, which unavoidably leads to continued ill-feeling amongst local people. In 1984 the government tried to close Kokla Bari Seed Farm, set up in the core Park grasslands in 1971, but this was strongly opposed by plains tribes, such as the Borokacharis, who are employed there. In the 1990s there were proposals to build two dams in the upper reaches of the Manas and Sankosh rivers in neighboring Bhutan which would have had a severe impact on the integrity of the whole Manas ecosystem but the plans were canceled after vigorous protests.
In February 1988 the Reserve and Park were violently occupied by separatist members of the local All Bodo Students Union, campaigning for autonomy for its people, who are about one-third of Assam's population, and for restoration of their right to use forest lands. Arson, looting, destruction of bridges and buildings and the murder of eight wildlife guards by the terrorists, in the absence of the police, resulted in the forced evacuation of sanctuary staff, leaving the park open to opportunistic professional poachers, timber smugglers and fringe villagers. 21 of the 44 ranger posts were destroyed and 30 were abandoned. As a result, hundreds of animals including rhinoceros, elephant, tiger and valuable prey species such as deer were killed. Consequently, in 1992, the site was placed on the list of World Heritage in Danger. The disturbances lasted from 1988 to 1993, and recurred in 2001 as militants of the United Liberation Front of Assam fled from refuges in Bhutan, and in 2002. They have had little impact on the conservation value of the site, protected by its inaccessibility, dense cover and poor visibility, except at its western end. However, damage totaling over US$2million to the infrastructure and the destruction of guard posts in twelve areas of the park, prevented the reestablishment of normal protection, management and staff morale. The infrastructure remains poor and a new through road from Bhutan may only increase encroachment. Landmines have also been set along the Bhutan border by insurgents. Although the Assam Forest Protection Force is available to keep order, militants still cross the area and conditions remain insecure, especially in the Eastern and Western ranges.
The surrounding villagers being very poor depend on natural resources for their livelihood which they perceive the Park and Reserve to be denying them. They are therefore hostile to the National Park. Poaching, always a problem, is now serious, carried out by large well-financed and well-armed gangs, partly backed by traders in endangered species. In June 1996 an unarmed Forest Department boatman was shot by poachers, and staff could not prevent attacks. As there is a rich market for horns, the rhinoceros population has been decimated by poachers: numbers dropped from approximately 80 in 1990 to half that number by 1997 and even lower according to some later reports. To feed the market in tiger parts the tiger population fell from 123 in 1984 to 70 in 2000; 20 elephants had been killed by 1997 and deer are still frequently taken for village feasts. Hundreds of trees have been felled and the habitats of endangered species such as golden langur, hispid hare and pygmy hog, have been put at risk. Encroachment, especially in Panbari Forest in the west, is continuous. Illegal grazing and grasscutting also occur. Despite the high level of crime, protection of the Park by the state and central governments has been delayed by lack of available manpower and political difficulty in releasing funds already granted for this use: the Park is understaffed and underfunded as a result. To improve relations with villagers, funding intended for Park use has been spent on schemes to benefit them instead and on infrastructure. Conservation is also hampered by the lack of an approved management plan. By 2002 however, staff were slowly reoccupying guard posts and re-establishing control.
Administration of the tiger reserve is the responsibility of the field director of Project Tiger, under the Ministry. There are four forest rangers, two deputy rangers, 29 foresters, 12 head game watchers, 49 forest guards, 46 game watchers and 104 other staff who administer the park. In 2000, 158 of 471 staff posts were unfilled, and the staff’s equipment, experience and budget remain inadequate to the challenge.
In 1989-1990 Rs2,545,000 were allocated by the Government of India for rhino conservation, but much was said to have been used for other purposes. In 1995 less than two thirds of the annual budget of US$272,850 had been paid by 1996. In 1997 the World Heritage Fund granted US$75,000 for vehicles, boats and equipment, and in 1998, US$90,000 for ranger posts and staff housing. Because of the insecurity of the site, this last was used instead on veterinary and health camps and repairs to irrigation systems to improve relations with villagers. In 1997-1998 the Indian government granted US$500,000 to strengthen conservation in the Reserve.
IUCN Management Category
- IV Managed Nature Reserve.
- Natural World Heritage Site, inscribed in 1985 as Manas Sanctuary. Natural Criteria ii, iii, iv.
- Listed as World Heritage in Danger in 1992 because of heavy poaching and destruction caused by civil unrest.
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