A New Dawn Rises Over India’s Manas National Park
“Welcome to this game of chess, Vivek” he said “a game that you can lose at any time, a game that you may never win, but a game where you cannot afford to get up and walk away from the table”.When I started out in conservation 25 years ago I was welcomed by a senior animal welfare veteran with prophetic words.
“Welcome to this game of chess, Vivek” he said “a game that you can lose at any time, a game that you may never win, but a game where you cannot afford to get up and walk away from the table”.
I did not realize how true those words would turn out to be. I have lost the war to save species and wild habitat innumerable times; to new development, to uncaring people and governments, and to ignorance amongst nature conservationists themselves on the natural world.
At many times it has been a lonely, pessimistic battle to save the last of India’s wilds. But there are times when the batteries are recharged again. Normally when one is out in the small, protected islands that we still have in the country, when a magnificent tiger springs out of the undergrowth on an unsuspecting deer, when a gigantic bull tusker sprays wet mud on his body or when a flock of hornbills take to the air in their many coloured splendour.
Even rarer are the times when a conservation battle fought in dry air-conditioned halls fills you with happiness. Today, marvelously, was one such day. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee in its 35th meeting has finally taken India’s Manas National Park off the Heritage Sites in danger list. We have been trying to get this victory for over a decade. Manas was the best example site of biodiversity in northeastern India in the 1980s. It was a place where the endangered rhino, swamp deer and buffaloes had a refuge with the tiger and the elephant - the big five of north east India.
Then came the civil unrest of the late ‘80s and a paradise was in danger. In fact much of it was destroyed. But with the peace accord in the early 90s and a concerned government, Manas started coming back up. The International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India have been leading that fight back, bringing Manas back to its former glory.
We have rehabilitated rhinos, elephants, clouded leopards and even a tiger back to Manas. We have worked to boost the morale of the frontline forest guards and the NGO anti-poaching staff by training them and equipping them. Together, IFAW and WTI have provided local villagers with electric fences to keep out animals from their fields which helps gain their support in the action. And the local political establishment has grown Greater Manas to triple the size of the original protected area.
We have over the past years persistently lobbied UNESCO, to get remove the shameful tag of “Heritage in danger”, all that remained was for them to do so. And after an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) site visit report and UNESCO’s own recommendations favouring India, the tag is now finally off. IFAW, WTI, The Assam government, the native Bodos and India can celebrate.
So can the wildlife of the area itself, which can look forward to a new dawn. Not the red tinted dusk of a site in danger but the golden ochre, the colour of the Bodos and that of a rising sun! —VM For the IUCN official announcement click here.