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Insurgency ends, Manas regains heritage status
SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT  Guwahati | 17th Jul 2011

here's good news for Assam on the environmental front. The UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has restored Manas National Park's World Heritage status after nearly 20 years, thanks to an end to insurgency that devastated the park's eco-systems.

The park, watered by the Manas river which flows from Bhutan through the Himalayas, had been on the brink of being derecognised following the destruction of wildlife and forests by non-state armed groups such as the National Democratic Front of Bodoland and other anti-India organisations which used it not only for their camps but also to traverse to bases in Bhutan. The situation became so bad that for some years range officers and forest guards refused to enter parts of the park fearing threats to their lives. In those years, deer, tigers, elephants and other species fell prey to armed poachers masquerading as militants.

The UNESCO committee approved the step last month citing improved wildlife protection measures and renewed natural resources.

Manas is the only wildlife protected area in India with five different conservation tags: tiger reserve, World Heritage Site, biosphere reserve, national park and elephant reserve. It is perhaps the only wildlife habitat which is home to more than 20 Schedule I (highly endangered) species as listed in the Wildlife Protection Act of India.

UNESCO recognised the park's core area as a World Heritage Site in 1985. But after Manas, like the rest of Assam, went through a violent phase in the 1990s, the UN committee put it on an "in danger" list citing political instability, loss of natural heritage, decline in the protection apparatus, damage in infrastructure and management of the park.

The situation took a turn for the better after the Bodoland Peace Accord between the Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT) and Government of India in February 2003. A year later, the Bhutan government destroyed 35 the Bodo and Assam groups' camps, forcing many of them to flee to captivity in Assam. Scores escaped to Bangladesh to regroup. The back of the movements appears to now have been broken with Bangladesh handing over these leaders to India in 2009.

The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) leaders, some of whom were directly responsible for devastating Manas while they were in the BLT, went on an overdrive with the forest and wildlife officials to revive the park. The former militants also founded conservation and tourism groups to work for its restoration. Within a few years it saw a dramatic turnaround.

Rhinos have been reintroduced through translocation. The wild elephant and wild buffalo population appear to have stabilised. Hispid hare, pigmy hog and Bengal Florican have added to the uniqueness of the area. The presence of rare species like the white winged wood duck and Manipur bush quail has been established. Manas has been a tiger reserve since 1973 and it is now the focus of a campaign to conserve tigers. Park authorities say they plan greater cooperation with Bhutan's Royal Manas National Park across the border. A joint tiger

census using the camera trapping method was conducted last December and this January. "There is still an uphill task ahead. We are preparing a road map," says park director A. Swargowary.

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