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Greater Manas National Park

This picturesque national park with its captivating landscapes of grasslands and Himalayan forests is one of the world's richest protected areas, in terms of diversity of wildlife. Lying at the foothills of the Himalayas in Barpeta and Kokrajhar district of Assam, the park now occupies an area of 500 sq km. In a declaration made by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in March 2008, Greater Manas National Park will include, Manas National Park, North Kamrup forest Rreserve, the adjacent Manas forest reserve and the Ripu-Chirang forest. The park encloses a tiger reserve and elephant corridor between the West Bengal-Arunachal Pradesh-Bhutan borders. Located at a latitude of 26°30' to 27°00'N and longitude of 90°50' to 92°00'E, altitude in the park varies from 61 m to 110 m. Manas National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as early as 1985.

Vegetation types seen here include sub-Himalayan alluvial, semi-evergreen forest, east Himalayan, mixed moist and dry deciduous forests and grasslands. Nearly 374 species of dicotyledons, including 89 species of trees, 139 species of monocotyledons and 15 species of orchids have been found in the park. Tree species found in the dry deciduous forests are Aphanamixis polystachya, Anthocephalus chinensis, Syzygium cumini, S. formosum, S. oblatum, Bauhinia purpurea, Mallotus philippensis, Cinnamomum tamala and Actinodaphne obvata. The tropical moist and dry deciduous forests have an abundance of Bombax ceiba, Sterculia villosa, Dillenia indica, D. pentagyna, Careya arborea, Lagerstroemia parviflora, L. speciosa and Phyllanthus emblica. Other tree species common here include Terminalia bellirica, T. chebula, Trewia polycarpa, Gmelina arborea, Oroxylum indicum and Bridelia spp. Grasslands cover nearly 45% of the park and include, low alluvial savannah woodlands and semi-evergreen alluvial grasslands. As many as 43 different species of grasses are found here and include species like Imperata cylindrica, Saccharum naranga, Phragmites karka and Arundo donax. Shrubs like Dillenia pentagyna, Clerodendrum, Leea, Grewia, Premna, Mussaenda, Sonchus, Osbekia and Blumera are seen in large numbers here.

As many as 55 species of mammals, with 22 of India's Schedule I mammals and at least 33 threatened species of mammals have been reported here. Some of the mammals found include, Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), golden langur (Trachypithecus geei), capped langur (Trachypithecus pileatus), hoolock gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock), hispid hare (Caprolagus hispidus), Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica), parti-coloured flying squirrel (Hylopetes alboniger) and Ganges dolphin (Platanista gangeticus). Manas National Park is a critically important breeding spot for the golden langurs, pygmy hogs (Sus salvanius) and hispid hares. Other mammals seen here include sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis), binturong (Arctictis binturong) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). Manas is also home to the Asiatic wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee), Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) and several species of deer that includes swamp deer or barasingha (Cervus duvauceli), sambar (Cervus unicolor), hog deer (Axis porcinus), chital or spotted deer (Axis axis), Indian muntjac or barking deer (Muntiacus muntjac) and gaur (Bos gaurus).

The park has a large and diverse bird population with over 450 species of birds reported, of which nearly 350 species are permanent residents in the sanctuary. Bird endemicity is high with 16 endemic species. Threatened species of birds sighted in the park include Bengal florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis), great hornbill (Buceros bicornis), wreathed hornbill (Aceros undulatus), Pied harrier (Circus melanoleucos), spotbilled pelican (Pelecanus philippinensis), greater adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) and lesser adjutant (Leptopilos javanicus).

As many as 50 species of reptiles have been identified in the park. This includes species like the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), Assam roofed turtle (Pangshura sylhetensis), Indian roofed turtle (Pangshura tectum) and Indian black pond turtle (Melanochelys trijuga). Species of snakes seen here include vine snake (Ahaetulla nasutas), glidng snake (Chrysopelea ornata), Assam trinket snake (Elaphe frenata), king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), Indian rock python (Python molurus) and banded krait (Bangarus fasciatus).

The park has suffered greatly because no provisions were made to offer alternative resources as well as take care of the livelihood needs of the Bodo tribals living in the area. The absence of a good management plan for the park has been a serious impediment that has had disastrous consequences for both, the tribal communities in the area, Forest Department officials as well as the fauna and flora of the region. An important reason for the conflicts was because the tribal communities were denied access to the resources of the forests. Another reason was the campaign by the Bodo Students Union attempting to get autonomy for Assam. Between 1989 to 1994, militant groups attacked all three ranges of the national park, including the Bhuyanpara and Panbari ranges, which were completed destroyed. The park also suffered acts of arson, sabotage and the murder of more than a dozen wildlife guards by terrorists along with destruction of 28 patrol camps and bridges. Between 1988 and 1993, nearly half of the rhino population and a third of the tiger (Panthera tigris) population were killed by Bodo militants. Thousands of trees too were cut down leading to destruction of nearly 50% of the forests. Several violent conflicts by United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) militants, including killing of forest guards and landmines along the Bhutan border led to special protection of this site.

In 1992, the site was given special security as a World Heritage Site in danger. Though the tiger reserve has been protected, the buffer zone suffered serious damages. Overgrazing by livestock, collection of fuelwood, burning of grasslands, hunting and timber smuggling have severely damaged the habitat of the buffer zone. In the recent past, the situation has been a bit better with the development of a good management plan that allows for participation from the tribal community in managing forest resources. In 2003, the government of India signed an agreement with the Bodo community where responsibility for managing the park rests with the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). That has been a very positive step because the BTC has tripled the area for conservation of one of India's most valuable national parks.


Government acts on WTI-IFAW study, Creates Greater Manas Accessed in March 2008

Daniels, J. C. 2002. The book of Indian reptiles and amphibians. Bombay Natural History Society and Oxford University Press, Mumbai, India. 238 pp.

Das, I. 2002. A photographic guide to the snakes and other reptiles of India. New Holland Publishers (U.K.) Ltd., London. 144 pp.

Kazmierczak, K. 2000. A field guide to the birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistn, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. OM Book Service, New Delhi, India. 352 pp.

Menon, V. 2003. A field guide to Indian mammals. DK (India) Pvt Ltd and Penguin Book India (P) Ltd. 201 pp.

WII. 2007. List of protected areas. National Wildlife Database Cell. Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India.

World Heritage Sites in India-United Nations Environment Programme. Accessed in March 2008.

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