Extra area to aid conservation - Manas National Park territory increased to 850 sq km

The Assam forest department has increased the Manas National Park area, making it almost equal to Kaziranga National Park, three years after the proposal was mooted by the Bodoland Territorial Council.

This is the first addition to Manas, adding 350 square km to the present 500 square km park area, which makes it a total of 850 square km. The total area of Kaziranga is 882 square km after six additions.

The Assam government issued a gazette notification a few days back, paving the way for the area extension. A formal announcement will be made tomorrow in Kokrajhar by the BTC. Official sources said the addition will help in better conservation of the adjoining areas of the Manas landscape, which has been witnessing degradation.

The addition is a part of the Manas reserve forest on its eastern side. It was notified as a reserve forest in 1927. The Manas reserve forest falls in the Bijni sub-division of Chirang district.

The extension proposal was first moved by the BTC in 2013. In 2014, the state board for wildlife accepted the proposal, which was later cleared by the National Board for Wildlife and the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change.

The proposed addition falls within the notified buffer of the Manas tiger reserve as well as the critical tiger habitat notified by the state government in 2007.

Sources said there is no encroachment in the reserve forest and the area is home to the critically endangered white-bellied heron ( Ardea insignis), which is being protected through community-based conservation measures.

The Manas reserve forest is a critical part of the Indo-Bhutan Tiger Conservation Landscape and lies at the critical juncture of the Indo-Malayan and the Indo-Gangetic bio-geographical pathways and had been lauded by Unesco for its outstanding natural beauty and unparalleled diversity.

The reserve forest is contiguous to Royal Manas Natonal Park in Bhutan and Manas National Park and the transit of wildlife is a regular phenomenon.

"It is indeed a welcome step by the BTC and the state government to increase the Manas National Park area by including the Manas reserve forest. This will further strengthen overall wildlife conservation as the reserve forest is rich in biodiversity," Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak, told The Telegraph.

A source said the forest department will now have to work for better conservation of the national park as the adjoining areas have now been put under better protection. "Manpower will have to be redeployed from one place to another," the source said.

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