Conservation circles have underscored the need for trans-border management of Manas National Park and Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan for enhancing the long-termconservation prospects of the World Heritage Site.
Manas has been under a recovery phase following a decade of social turmoil that did considerable damage to its flora and fauna. The World Heritage tag has also been in danger since.
A security mechanism involving greater international trans-boundary coordination between the two protected areas divided by the Manas river is among the recommendations made by the UNESCO Heritage Committee as well.
“We are always having some understanding and coordination with the Royal Manas authorities. Now efforts are under way to give a formal shape to the joint arrangements such as patrolling and intelligence-sharing that would serve best the interests of both,” Anindya Swargayari, Field Director, Manas Tiger Reserve (ManasNational Park is the core area of the tiger reserve), told The Assam Tribune.
Dr Surajit Baruah of WWF-India said that the issue needed urgent consideration of both governments and voluntary organizations in view of the fact that neither wildlife nor forces inimical to them recognize manmade frontiers.
“Rapid shrinkage and degradation of wildlife habitat has made it all the more imperative that trans-border management of forests is given priority. It is a must for keeping intact the remaining contiguous belts of forests – be it inter-state or international as in the case of Manas – and facilitating unhindered movement of animals,” Dr Baruah said, adding that it was essential for maintaining a healthy gene pool.
Effective trans-border management is also expected to do a world of good for the tiger, which is increasingly being pushed to the brink in most of its habitats. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has recommended joint management of Manas with both Royal Manas and Buxa Tiger Reserve for ensuring a secure future for the big cat.
“The importance of the Manas Tiger population as a source is enhanced when managed in conjunction with Royal Manas in Bhutan and Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal,” a forest official said, referring to the recommendations.
In fact, the Manas-Ripu Chirang-Buxa/Jaldapara Gorumara (West Bengal)-Singhalila (Sikkim) landscape spreading across 7,200 sq km with a single block of 5,000 sq km from North and West makes a strong case for trans-border management.
While the connectivity in the Bhramaputra plains is patchy and fragmented, the landscapes are connected through the forests of Bhutan.
On the Indian side, stepping-stone connectivity exists between Gorumara, Jaldapara, Buxa, and Ripu Chirang through the district of Jalpaiguri.
“Connectivity between Ripa Chirang and Manas is lost on the Indian side. This landscape needs to be managed through trans-boundary international cooperation with the Government of Bhutan,” the official said.
From the perspective of tiger conservation, the tiger populations in this landscape have historical evolutionary significance as they share the connecting gene pool with south-eastern tiger populations and represent the entry point of tigers into the Indian subcontinent.
The Buxa-Manas tiger population extends from Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal to Manas Tiger Reserve in Assam with Royal Manas of Bhutan. This population exists in a contiguous forest extent of 7,200 sq km with a tiger occupancy of 1,051 sq km.
In Assam tiger occupancy in this population was 455 sq km constituted by Manas Tiger Reserve and Barnadi sanctuary.