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Wildlife Sanctuaries


Manas National Park

Formerly known as North Kamrup, Manas, in Assam, was declared a sanctuary in 1928. In 1985 it was accorded the status of World Heritage Site. The park straddles two rivers, the Manas and its tributary the Hakua, along the Assam-Bhutan border. The protected area extends into the Bhutan foothills. Manas houses 19 of India's most endangered animal populations, home to the rare golden langur and a sizeable tiger population. Its wetlands are essential for the survival of the fast-vanishing hispid hare and pygmy hog. The fauna to be found here include the rhino, wild buffalos, elephants, gaur, swamp deer, capped langur and clouded leopard. The park, the eastern range of the chital and habitat of the sambar deer, also boasts a rich and diverse avian population. The main highlight is the giant hornbill, two subspecies of which, the pied and grey varieties, are to be found here.

GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION: The park lies in the districts of Barpeta and Kokrajhar, 41km north of Barpeta Road township. It spans the Manas River and is bounded to the north by the international border with Bhutan, to the south by the populated regions of North Kamrup and to the east and west by forest reserves. The park, which includes part of Manas Reserve Forest and all of North Kamrup Reserve Forest, constitutes the core of Manas Tiger Reserve which lies in the forest divisions of Kachugaon, Haltugaon, Western Assam Wildlife and North Kamrup. 2637'-2650'N, 9045'-9115'E

DATE AND HISTORY OF ESTABLISHMENT: Manas (previously also known as North Kamrup) was declared a sanctuary on 1 October 1928, parts of it having been notified as reserved forests in 1907 and 1927. Encroachment pressures from local people led the government to set aside 809ha from the sanctuary for a seed farm in 1971. It was established as the core of the Manas Tiger Reserve with effect from April 1973. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1985 as Manas Sanctuary. The sanctuary was upgraded to national park status on 7 September 1990, and enlarged from 39,100ha to 50,000ha by the inclusion of the former Panbari, Koklabari and Kahitama Forest Reserves in the eastern sector (Oliver, 1993: K. Rao pers. comm., 1995). Placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992 due to civil unrest and subsequent damage to infrastructure.

AREA: The park comprises 50,000ha of the 283,712ha Manas Tiger Reserve. Contiguous with Royal Manas National Park (65,800ha), Bhutan.

LAND TENURE: State

ALTITUDE: Ranges from 40m to 150m (Deb Roy, n.d.).

PHYSICAL FEATURES: Lying in the foothills of the Outer Himalaya, the area is low-lying and flat. The Manas River flows through the western portion of the park, where it splits into three separate rivers, and joins the Brahmaputra some 64km further south. These and other rivers running through the tiger reserve carry an enormous amount of silt and rock debris from the foothills, resulting from the heavy rainfall, fragile nature of the rock and steepgradients of the catchments. This leads to the formation of alluvial terraces, comprising deep layers of deposited rock and detritus overlain with sand and soil of varying depth, shifting river channels and swamps. The northern portion is represented by the 'Bhabar' formation, which is very porous due to the deep deposits of coarse detritus overlain by sandy loam and then a thin layer of humus. The 'Terai' tract in the south consists of fine alluvial deposits with underlying pans. Here, the water table lies very near to the surface. The area of the Boki basin, in the west of the park, is sometimes inundated during the monsoon but never for very long due to the sloping relief. Mortality to wildlife is negligible as animals are able to stake refuge on islands of high ground (Anon., 1974; Deb Roy, n.d.).

CLIMATE: The climate is warm and humid (up to 76 per cent relative humidity) with most rain falling during the monsoon season (May-September). The mean maximum summer temperature is 37C and the mean minimum winter temperature is 11C. Mean annual rainfall ranges from 3332mm at Batabari to 4489mm at Kachugaon, based on 11 and 17 years of records, respectively (Anon., 1974; Deb Roy, n.d.).

VEGETATION The three main types of vegetation are:- (a) Tropical semi-evergreen forests in the northern part of park, with common trees including Aphanamixis polystachya, Anthocephalus chinensis, Syzygium cumini, S. formosum, S. oblatum, Bauhinia purpurea, Mallotus philippensis, Cinnamomum tamala, Actinodaphne obvata; (b) tropical moist and dry deciduous forests (the most common type), characterised by trees such as Bombax ceiba, Sterculia villosa, Dillenia indica, D. pentagyna, Careya arborea, Lagerstroemia parviflora, L. speciosa, Terminalia bellirica, T. chebula, Trewia polycrapa, Gmelina arborea, Oroxylum indicum, Bridelia spp.; and (c) extensive alluvial grasslands in the western part of the park, comprising many different grass species together with a variety of tree and shrub species (e.g. Dillenia pentagyna, Phyllanthus emblica, Bombax ceiba, and species of Clerodendrum, Leea, Grewia, Premna and Mussaenda). The grasslands can be subdivided into wet alluvial and highland savanna types. There is also a considerable variety of aquatic flora along river banks and in the numerous pools (Jain and Sastry, 1983). Dry deciduous forests represent early stages in succession and are replaced by moist deciduous forests away from water courses, which, in turn, are succeeded by tropical semi-evergreen climax forest. Grasslands cover about 50 per cent of the park. Some 393 species of dicotyledons, including 197 trees, and 98 species of monocotyledons have been identified (Jain and Hajra, 1975; S. Deb. Roy, pers. comm.).

FAUNA: A total of 55 mammals, 36 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded (Project Tiger, n.d.). Manas harbours by far the greatest number (21) of India's Schedule I mammals of any protected area in the country. Many are typical of South-east Asian rain forest and have their westernmost distribution here. Mammals include golden langur Presbytis geei (R), a recently discovered endemic restricted to Manas and adjoining areas in Bhutan and numbering approximately 305 in 1980, capped langur P. pileata, Hoolock gibbon Hylobates hoolock, clouded leopard Neofelis nebulosa (V), tiger Panthera tigris (E) the second largest population in India numbering 80 in 1995, although this figure is disputed (Milne, 1997), leopard P. pardus, golden cat Felis temmincki (I), fishing cat F. viverrinus (K), leopard cat F. bengalensis, marbled cat F. marmorata (K), binturong Arctictis binturong, sloth bear Melursus ursinus (I), wild dog Cuon alpinus (V), Ganges dolphin Platanista gangetica, Indian elephant Elephas maximus (E), with up to 2,000 in the tiger reserve and more than 1,000 moving freely between Indian and Bhutan Manas reserves, Indian rhinoceros Rhinoceros unicornis (E), pygmy hog Sus salvanius (E), swamp deerC. duvauceli (V), with approximately 450 individuals (Deb Roy, 1992), sambar Cervus unicolor, hog deer C. porcinus, Indian muntjac Muntiacus muntjak, water buffalo Bubalus arnee (V), probably representing the only pure strain of this species in India, gaur Bos gaurus (V), giant squirrel Ratufa indica, hispid hare Caprolagus hispidus (E) and Indian pangolin Manis crassicaudata. Over 450 species of birds have been recorded (Deb Roy, 1990) including the threatened Bengal florican Houbaropsis bengalensis (E), great pied hornbill Buceros bicornis, wreathed hornbill Rhyticeros undulatus and other hornbills. The Bengal florican population was estimated at 34 in 1984 for the national park (Ali et al., 1985) and 80 individuals with 24 male territories were identified within the park during 1988 (Narayan et al., 1989). Pied harrier Circus melanoleucos nested during 1988 and 1989, the first confirmed record for India (Narayan et al., 1989). Uncommon waterfowl species include spot-billed pelican Pelecanus philippinensis (I), lesser adjutant Leptoptilos javanicus (V) and greater adjutant L. dubius (E) (Scott, 1989). Reptiles include a variety of snakes (e.g. vine snake Ahaetulla nasutas, flying snake Chrysopelea ornata, Assam trinket snake Elaphe frenata and banded krait Bangarus fasciatus), gharial Gavialis gangeticus (E) (possibly introduced from neighbouring Bhutan or as a result of a captive breeding programme), and monitor lizard Varanus sp. Assam roofed turtle Kachuga sylhetensis (K) has recently been recorded (Sarma, 1988).

CULTURAL HERITAGE: Manas takes its name after the Goddess Manasa. The surrounding area is inhabited predominantly by tribal people (Deb Roy, n.d.).

VISITORS AND VISITOR FACILITIES: A forest bungalow at Mothanguri, within the park, provides dormitory style accommodation for 48 persons. A number of rest houses and camp sites are also available. The Tourist Department of Assam conducts tours, including boat trips down the river and elephant rides. Foreign visitors need a special permit to enter the park. Some 32,860 people visited the area in 1983-1984. Due to the Bodo agitation in Assam, the park was closed in 1989 (K. Rao pers. comm., 1995), but in 1996 an estimated 8,000 tourists visited the park (IUCN, 1997).
 

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