Manas (Assam): A rare conservation success story is emerging from Manas National Park with the sighting of a rehabilitated elephant having been accepted into a wild herd – good news for conservationists currently pleading for the removal of the park from the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
The elephant, named Hamren, was among the five hand-raised calves, relocated to Manas in January this year as part of the Elephant Reintegration Project – a joint venture of the Assam Forest Department and International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI), supported by the Bodoland Territorial Council. The calf had been admitted to the IFAW-WTI run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) in a severely injured and weak condition in May 2008 and carefully nursed back to full health.
“We sighted Hamren with a wild herd comprising about 24 elephants. We tried to get a closer look to check on him but an adult female with a calf, mock-charged at us,” said Dr Bhaskar Choudhury, Manager WTI. “However, he seemed healthy and content.”
“Hamren’s story is just one of the reasons why Manas must be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger. There are so many other stories of so many species of animals including clouded leopards, rhinos and even a tiger, which have found a home here. There are also stories of people – former poachers surrendering and committing themselves to conservation, as well as active participation of locals and the government alike strengthening protection of their natural heritage,” said Vivek Menon, Regional Director – South Asia, IFAW and Executive Director, WTI, who is among the forerunners in advocating protection of Manas’ World Heritage status.
Manas was first included in the World Heritage List in 1985 at the 9th annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee. In 1992, it was it was enlisted as a World Heritage in Danger. Since then, it has been retained in the List in every annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee.
“The Committee felt that Manas was ‘in danger of losing the values for which it was granted World Heritage status’,” said Azzedine Downes, Executive Vice-President, IFAW.
During the period of prolonged civil unrest in the 1980s and 1990s, much of Manas’ rich and abundant wildlife was destroyed. Most notably, its entire rhino population was wiped out.
“The population of a number of major species in Manas has seen a comeback, particularly tigers, rhinos and elephants. Besides the flagship species, Manas is also home to some of the endemic wildlife like hispid hare, pygmy hog etc and to many rare or threatened animals including clouded leopards, Bengal florican etc. The protection of the park has been reinforced, with better-equipped and trained frontline staff and with active support of locals, the infrastructure is better, the management has improved, there is cross-border cooperation in its protection,” stressed CR Bhobora, IFS, Deputy Director, Manas National Park.
“Things have changed now and there is an unwavering commitment to conservation and protection. Manas deserves to have its title restored along with its animals. This is what IFAW and WTI will try and convince the Committee during the upcoming annual meet that is being held in Paris next month,” Downes added.
Elephant reintegration is one of the numerous projects being implemented by the local and state authorities assisted by IFAW-WTI as part of its ‘Bringing back Manas’ initiative. In 2006, under this initiative, rhinos were reintroduced in Manas for the first time since it lost its entire population to poaching.
In 2008-09, the local government declared Greater Manas, effectively increasing its area by three folds, as advocated by IFAW-WTI, further decreasing the likelihood of human-animal conflict. IFAW-WTI has also been implementing the rehabilitation and release of orphaned clouded leopard cubs and Asiatic black bear cubs in this area. Support is provided to local NGOs and groups to encourage and facilitate their participation in wildlife conservation, through the Greater Manas Conservation Fund.
“For us, the people of Bodoland, conservation of wildlife particularly in Greater Manas is one of the main priorities. It is home to some of the rarest, unique and endangered species. We take pride in our natural heritage and will continue to work to secure it. It is unfortunate that Manas was listed as World Heritage in Danger; now it is time for the Committee to change this,” said Kampa Borgoyari, Deputy Chief, BTC.