| The Bhuyanpara range of Manas National Park |
Guwahati, Oct. 16: Manas National Park, which has already lost five rhinos since 2011 to poachers, is now facing a fresh wave of encroachment.
Sources said the encroachment was taking place at the Bhuyanpara range of the park and had increased over the past few months.
Till last year it was restricted to 4 square km area of the park but since July this year, the intensity has increased and a new area of 3 square km was cleared for cultivation.
“The fact is that the tall Terai grassland of Manas, which is the lifeline of endemic and endangered species like pygmy hog, Bengal florican and hispid hare, has been lost because of this. The productive grassland supports a flourishing population of Asian elephants, tigers and the growing population of one-horned rhinos,” a source said.
He said though the encroachment is for agriculture, the situation, if not controlled now, will take a serious turn and negate all the hard work for conservation.
“In fact, a rhino calf was born in one of the places which is now encroached. The authorities are aware of the matter but they have not acted on it. This way, entire Manas will be lost,” Ajoy Kherkatary of Manas Bhuyanpara Conservation Society, an NGO, said.
“A number of forces — the presence of militants and others — are at play in Manas which is making it extremely difficult to control,” a forest official said.
The alleged involvement of a conservation volunteer in rhino poaching in the park recently had made matters worse and the exit of WWF from the park because of deteriorating law and order situation is another of the many concerns, he added.
The World Heritage Committee early this year had said rhino poaching has been identified as a serious conservation threat at several World Heritage properties. It said the killing of the four translocated rhinos in Manas National Park has endangered the re-establishment of the species at this site.
The Centre through the state forest department will have to submit to the World Heritage Centre an updated report on the state of conservation of the property, including a report on the progress achieved in addressing the issue of funds release and the implementation of the other recommendations made by the committee at its 35th session (Unesco, 2011), by February 2014.
The other range in Manas — Panbari with an area of 16.3 square km — has already witnessed rampant encroachment with 912 people occupying the area. Though Rs 6.46 crore was sanctioned in 2009-2010 by the authorities to relocate these people on the fringes of the core area of the tiger reserve, nothing has happened till now.
“People are not willing to move out of Panbari range as they have settled here for many years. They want land and not money. The government would have to take a tough stand to oust them,” an official of Panbari range said.