Manas National Park is situated along the banks of Manas River, a major tributary of the Brahmaputra at the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas in Assam. On the other side of Manas river which serves as an international boundary between India and Bhutan is Royal Manas National Park. Manas has an extraordinary significance within the Indian subcontinent’s protected reserves as one of the most important natural stretch in the region, where a considerable number of endangered species continue to live.
The locals refer to the national park as Manas Hagrama [forest] and believe that it gets its name from the serpent goddess `Manasa`.
Flora and Fauna
Manas National Park is home to 543 plants species, 55 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, 50 of reptiles and 3 species of amphibians. There are around 35 Indian Rhinos, 1000 Indian Elephants, 70 Swarm Deers and 24 Tigers to name a few.
You might also want to read the following articles to know more about Manas National Park:
Before getting the status of a sanctuary in 1928, Manas used to be the hunting grounds of Cooch Behar royal family. In 1985, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site but within 7 years it was added to the list of world heritage sites in danger due to illegal hunting and terrorist activities.
Heartland of Bodo Conflict
The demand for a separate independent state – Bodoland began in the late 1980`s under the leadership of All Bodo Students Union. Bodos are the largest linguistic group of Assam and wanted to reclaim their lost space. A wave of rebellion stunned Assam which resulted in ethnic violence towards Bengali Muslims and Adivasis. During the Bodo movement, the staff at Manas National Park abandoned their posts to escape the conflict. It was only in 2003 after an accord with the Central Government that conservation efforts started again.
Impact on the Wildlife
Extensive deforestation and impingement during the late 1980`s and early 2000`s, the national park saw its darkest period. Within a decade, the Rhino population was completely wiped out and Manas became the hotbed for Bodo armed rebellion. Large-scale poaching also posed a threat to the entire wildlife population.
In recent years, though Manas National Park has overcome its devastating days, the fringe communities around the park poses a new threat. According to a study done by Queensland University, the human footprint rose from 5 to 17 in the last decade.
Thriving Wildlife at Manas National Park
At present, Manas has re-established itself as one of the most important reserves for wildlife in the world. The credit goes to the local communities who have stopped poaching, encroachment and illegal activities within the premises of the park. Community cooperation and exceptional work done by NGOs like Manas Bandhu, Anajaree, Manas Ever Welfare Society [MEWS] have given way to tourism and opened up new avenues. It is imperative that the local community reduce its dependence on the forest for its sustainability and focus more on conservation.
Kampa Borgoyari, deputy chief of BTC played a crucial role in bringing the locals and the govt come to an agreement to revive the fate of Manas. Borgoyari, mediated with international organizations for the training of forest staff, providing equipment to guards, coming up with a community center to promote rural tourism and taking care of the requirements of the fringe villages. Right now, his major concern is to provide LPG gas to the villagers, so that the dependence on forest wood decreases.
Manas Spring Festival
I was invited to attend the Manas Spring Festival which happened on 7th and 8th of April, 2018. The idea behind Manas Spring Festival was to encourage economic growth without harming the forest. To achieve this, Indian Weavers` Alliance in association with WWF organized the festival as an attempt to create a model of alternative livelihood through food, handloom, and culture.
Local communities are better equipped to conserve the environment and maintain harmony between nature and wildlife. All they need is the right education and motivation to walk on that path. Manas Spring Festival is a stepping stone towards the direction of community conservation.
Only time will tell the future of 62 fringe villages around Manas National Park but the initiative of Food Sutra by Mitali G Dutta along with Swankar Mithinga Onsai Afat who spearheaded the Manas Spring Festival is a ray of hope for the local communities.