Manas National Park, which was listed as a ‘World Heritage Site in Danger’ in 1992, has finally been upgraded to its original World Heritage Site (WHS) status this year. The World Heritage Centre at Paris took this decision during its annual meeting earlier this June. This followed from five UNESCO-IUCN monitoring mission reports over 19 years, when Manas National Park was declared a WHS ‘in Danger’ by UNESCO.
Manas was inscribed as a WHS way back in 1985 based on criteria of spectacular natural landscape, outstanding example of ecological and biological processes, and representing unique biological diversity for in situ conservation. However, these attributes were severely compromised due to ethnic insurgency through the 1990s, resulting in damages to park infrastructure and depletion of forest habitat and wildlife populations. And so, Manas came to be listed as a ‘World Heritage Site in Danger’ in 1992. Political resolution of the ethnic uprising in 2003 has resulted in gradual improvement of the situation.
The shedding of the ‘in Danger’ tag is the result of combined efforts of the government, scientific fraternity, conservation NGOs and local communities. ATREE has contributed to this entire process. Our scientific research for monitoring recovery of wildlife population and habitat in Manas, going back nearly five years, helped to initiate baseline information and demonstrate improvement of biodiversity in the site. ATREE’s World Heritage Biodiversity Project in Manas over the last three years has been oriented towards supporting critical needs of the park management and local communities and improving the site’s profile. The team also helped park authorities prepare reports and documentation that were submitted to the World Heritage Centre.
ATREE interacted closely with the monitoring mission which visited Manas in January 2011, based on whose report the current decision on Manas was expedited. ATREE finds this positive development on the WHS front is very encouraging.
ATREE has been at the helm of the UNF/UNFIP approved ‘Building Partnerships to Support UNESCO’s World Heritage Programme in India’ project, operational at Manas and Kaziranga since 2008. The imperative for management is compelling: these are protected areas, in the poacher spotlight due to the charismatic species they harbour, in one of the most biodiversity-rich landscapes of the country, in an area of acute political turmoil. ATREE, in consultation with the Forest Department, has initiated efforts at improving management of the landscape by working with a range of stakeholders. Some of the project interventions focus on:
Assam Forest Department staff was given legal training on wildlife crime. This programme, organised in collaboration with Tiger Trust, New Delhi, included theoretical courses as well as field modules with focus on wildlife crime procedures. Besides this, the physical infrastructure of forest beat camps have been improved, and an elephant shed for park elephants has been set up.
Participatory Rural Appraisals involving eco-development committees and local NGOs were conducted in select fringe villages of the parks to support livelihood activities of the local communities. Medical health check-up camps were arranged for frontline forest staff and fringe villagers.
A mutli-stakeholder Advisory Committee meets thrice a year to oversee implementation. This committee includes the forest department, government representative, academics and partner NGOs.
A number of improved signboards have been placed along strategic locations in human settled landscapes to educate road/highway users of potential animal crossing zones
The ATREE research team in Manas has initiated sign survey, line transect and vegetation plots towards monitoring wildlife population and drivers of habitat change.
A unique scholarship scheme has been undertaken for students and young scholars from the fringe villages of the park sites. The project is supporting content-enrichment of exclusive websites for both Manas National Park and Kaziranga national Park.
ATREE is in its third year of implementation of this four-year project, coordinated by UNESCO and supported by funding from The Ford Foundation and Sehgal Foundation.