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Manas National Park had all the epithets that a protected area can dream of. It was a National Park, a tiger reserve and a World Heritage Site as declared by UNESCO. However, it was almost completely stripped of its faunal and floral heritage during a period of civil unrest in the region in the late 80s and early 90s. The park lost almost all its 100 or so rhinos, most of its swamp deer and wild buffaloes and a large number of elephants and tigers along with myriad other creatures during the peak of the poaching period. I was one of the few biologists who visited the park just after the dark years and was struck by its resilience and stark beauty despite the years of damage done to it. To be therefore part of trying to bring back Manas is a dream come true.
The dream had two parts. One was to work with the political establishment of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) to devise a management plan for Manas, for the expansion and resurrection of what was left. The District Council project funded by the British High Commission sought to do just that. The other was to try and re-stock Manas with some of its lost faunal
attributes and the IFAW partnered project has succeeded in bringing back rhinos and elephants into the park. By doing this, the project has shown the willingness of the Bodo community to conserve megafauna of the park, demonstrated the ability of the conservation community in rehabilitating orphaned wildlife back into the wild and started the process of bringing Manas back to its former glory.
The crowning glory of the project is the confirmation of the political will to declare Greater Manas. By doing this, the protected area (albeit under two different systems of protection) will virtually double. In this era of degradation of forests and denotification of protected areas, any enhancement of protection is a welcome step. A doubling of a world heritage is nothing but euphoric in nature. This report catalogues over five years of effort by the Wildlife Trust of India in partnership with the Bodoland Territorial Council, the Assam Forest Department, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the British High Commission to achieve some of these aims. The intent to declare Greater Manas is indeed a fitting end to Phase I of the project.