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Swamp deer sighting brings cheer to Manas

- Unesco committee suggests translocating the species from Kaziranga to boost population
A swamp deer clicked by a camera trap. Picture courtesy of the Manas forest department

Guwahati, Aug. 9: There is hope amid the gloom that prevails in the wilds of Manas in Assam. The first photographic evidence ever of a swamp deer or barasingha in the national park has brought cheer to conservationists and wildlife lovers.

The poaching of five translocated rhinos since 2011, three of them this year in this park had cast a pall of gloom and doubts on the future of rhinos.

“There have been indirect reports of the presence of the swamp deer in Manas but no sightings. However, during a joint tiger and prey monitoring exercise carried out by WWF India, Aaranyak, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment and the Assam forest department early this year, a swamp deer was photographed twice in the Kanchanbari area of the Bhuyanpara range,” Jimmy Borah, coordinator tiger programme of WWF, India told The Telegraph. The complete article on the photographic evidence will be published in the next issue of Oryx, the international journal on conservation.

Swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii) is categorised as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List but the conservation status of its three sub-species, including R. duvaucelii ranjitsinhi of Assam have not been assessed separately. R. duvaucelii ranjitsinhi was once common in the Brahmaputra valley but its population declined as a result of habitat loss, over-hunting, poaching and diseases from cattle. It is now confined to Kaziranga and Manas National Parks.

The 500 square km Manas National Park is the core area of Manas tiger reserve, and is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

There is a viable population of the swamp deer in Kaziranga and there was a healthy population of swamp deer in Manas prior to the civil unrest in the 1990s, with a population of 500 in 1987. During the civil unrest of 1980-90, however, poachers almost wiped out the population of swamp deer in Manas.

“This proof of the continued existence of the swamp deer in Manas is heartening news. However, a systematic survey is required to determine the status of the population,” Borah said. The Unesco World Heritage Site committee has advised that a species recovery plan is required. “It is a welcome news but we need to boost the protection in the park,” a park official said.

In accordance with the suggestions given by Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, the forest department, in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India, is planning to increase the population of swamp deer in Manas National Park by translocating the swamp deer from Kaziranga to Manas.

The habitat suitability analysis report on restocking of swamp deer says the major difference between the habitat of Manas and Kaziranga is the lack of large beels/wetlands in Manas National Park, which are an integral part of the Kaziranga landscape.

This paucity of large lakes in Manas may be an important limiting factor for swamp deer population in Manas as the swamp deer populations of Kaziranga (except for the herds living in riverine islands) are mostly inhabitants of the beels and their surrounding areas. In Kaziranga, large areas with short grass are formed around the beels, which are the primary grazing grounds for the swamp deer. The beels in Manas contain only thin strips of short grass surrounding the water.

The main predators that could affect the swamp deer population in Manas are tigers, leopards and wild dogs.