Assam’s Manas National Park obliterated by human activities: study (India)


Malavika Vyawahare, Hindustan Times

Date Published

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New Delhi: A majority of Natural World Heritage Sites are suffering at the hands of humans, a new study has found, particularly highlighting the human impact on Manas Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam.

“Sites like the Manas Wildlife sanctuary has been obliterated in just two decades,” James Watson, one of the authors of the study at the University of Queensland, Australia, said in a video release.

Not everybody agrees with this assessment. Amit Sharma, a senior coordinator at WWF-India, who works on Rhino conservation, maintained that the situation in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary was in fact improving. “It is relatively undisturbed in the core areas,” he said, “Only the peripheral areas are a bit disturbed.”

The University of Queensland research is the first time a global quantitative assessment has been done to evaluate the impact of human activities on Natural World Heritage Sites (NWHS). Watson described the results as “alarming.” with human pressure increasing in 63% of sites across all continents except Europe.

The study blamed see massive deforestation human encroachment.for the degradation of these sites. For Manas, the findings show that growing human pressure was impacting areas within the boundaries of the sanctuary. The human impact captured in the human footprint index rose from 5 to 17 according to the study, which is the largest jump, meaning that the sanctuary is the most highly impacted.

“Manas wildlife reserve, and Keoladeo National Park (both Indian) have been impacted by human pressure more than any other sites in the world,” James Allan, lead author of the study said. “ In Manas, many of these changes occurred in the last two decades – it suffered more damage than any other site during this time. Kaziranga faces a lot of pressure from the landscape around it, but the site is less damaged.”

Sharma acknowledged that there are lots of factors like extraction, poaching and encroachment that are at work in the area. Other parks like Kaziranga are much more secured and there is more human impact in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, according to him.

Manas Wildlife sanctuary is a biodiversity hotspot hosting several endangered species, such as the tiger, pygmy hog, Indian rhinoceros and Indian elephant. It stretches across 39,100 hectares.It was declared a world natural heritage site in 1985.

Sharma underscored the need to appreciate the context in which conservation efforts are taking place. “It is dominated by the tribal group called Boros or Bodos, that are culturally religiously attached to the biodiversity of the forest areas.”

It is complicated by the social unrest has been breaking out at regular intervals in the region. “During the late 1990s and early 2000s it was a totally disturbed area; there was social unrest and militancy in the area. Since mid -2000 we have been working towards a revival of the park.”

There are currently 1052 world heritage sites, of these the overwhelming majority are cultural sites including the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India. There are 203 natural world heritage sites and 35 that are mixed.These sites are selected for being of “outstanding universal value.”

“These are world heritage areas these are the same as the Pantheon, the Acropolis, Pyramids,” Watson said. “Would we accept a car park in the middle of these cultural heritage sites? Absolutely not!”

“But with natural heritage sites we seem to accept that these sites are not globally significant and we seem happy to lose them,” he said.

Manas Wildlife sanctuary

A biodiversity hotspot that stretches across 39, 100 hectares hosts several endangered species, including the tiger, pygmy hog, Indian rhinoceros and Indian elephant. It was declared a Natural World Heritage site in 1985.

*Total Natural World Heritage Sites: 203

*Natural World Heritage Sites in India: 7

*Natural World Heritage Sites subjected to increasing human pressure (Between 1993-2009): 63%

*Human Footprint in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary: 17 (2009)

Source: University of Queensland, Australia, study & UNESCO