A recent tiger census shows promising results of a successful anti-poaching campaign
The tiger population in Assam has registered a growth in at least two reserves since the census conducted last year.
Director of Manas National Park H K Sarma informed the media that there were 30 tigers in the park which marked an increase of 16 from the last count. He explained that the Panbari sector which covered about one-third of the park had also been included in the latest census.
Assam has four tiger reserves that includes two World Heritage Sites – Manas National Park and Kaziranga National Park. The latest addition was the Orang National Park on the north bank of the Brahmaputra in Sonitpur district.
Of the 24 adult tigers in Manas, 12 are male and 11 female and the rest are sub adults. In the latest census, Orang National Park has recorded 28 tigers while the figures for Kaziranga National Park and Nameri National Park have not yet been announced. Officials, however, indicated that the population is likely to go up in both the parks.
Besides the four in Assam, the northeast has three more tiger reserves - Pakke and Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh and Dampa in Mizoram. Tiger conservation has consistently been improving in all the parks in the region ince the past few years. The population of tigers has gone up from 201 in 2014 from 148 in 2010 with Assam registering the highest. The Northeast also has two tiger conservation units, one comprising Manas Tiger Reserve which stretches across Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh while the other includes Kaziranga and extending up to Meghalaya.
It may be mentioned that several national parks in Assam had suffered destruction of forests and wildlife habitats during the peak of insurgency. Manas had been the worst affected with both the Bodo rebel groups – Bodoland Liberation Tigers and National Democratic Front of Bodoland – having established temporary camps inside the park. The prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site tag was removed and it was only in 2011 that the status was regained. Since then, the park officials have gone on an overdrive to root out rebels and poachers from the reserve. The park will have more tigers if the contiguous Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan is also taken into account.
The Manas River flowing through the Park demarcates the border between India and Bhutan. The Park has vast deciduous forests where the dense cover often cuts out the light. Its wet grasslands are the home of the rhino, water buffalo, elephant and tiger. Manas is noted for its population of the rare golden langur - found only in this part of the country. They are often spotted in the tall trees. The park provides shelter to at least 55 mammalian species, 36 reptilian species and 3 amphibian species, thus making it the greatest protected area in India in terms of numbers.
Besides tigers, the population of other wildlife species has also registered an upward trend in Assam. The number of wild elephants has increased in the state with 5,620 of them counted in 2011 as against 5,246 in 2002. Deforestation and encroachment on the corridors has however resulted in the escalation of man-elephant conflicts in recent years. The highly endangered one-horn rhino population has also gone up from 1,672 in 1999 to 2,201 in 2009, when the last census was done, official said, adding that the positive trend could be maintained in the future and poaching brought under control.
Poaching — especially of the one-horned rhino — has emerged as the biggest threat in Kaziranga and Orang National Parks. According to an estimate, the black market price of rhino horn can be as high as USD 300,000 per kilogram of horn in China and some other parts of South East Asia, primarily because of its use in the manufacture of traditional medicines reputed to cure everything from hangovers to impotence. The same black market also leads to poaching of tigers. The involvement of local militant outfits in poaching in the parks in Assam has been suspected.
Just days after it was declared a tiger reserve, officials at Orang stumbled upon an M16 rifle during a patrol three years ago, confirming suspicions that poachers are now using more sophisticated weapons. Months later there was a similar incident in Kaziranga . These weapons are found only with militants and reported to be sold by gunrunners at selected spots in Myanmar, China and South East Asia at high rates.
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