Last month (July) at the Royal Geographical Society’s International Conference in Edinburgh, Indian PhD student, Sonali Ghosh, delivered a short talk titled: ‘armed conflict and its impact on wildlife habitat – a case study from Manas Tiger Reserve and World Heritage site, India’
The Manas Reserve, which is located in India’s north east Assam region, is not only one of the ‘jewels in the crown’ of the Indian tiger reserves network but also contains the country’s highest numbers of protected endangered endemic species: 22 of India’s Schedule One mammals and at least 33 of its animals listed as threatened by far the greatest number of any protected area in the country. 55 mammals, 50 reptiles and three amphibians have been recorded, several species being endemic.
The location is important: the region is Bodoland which has seen a long-running campaign to create a socialist state that involved a great deal of bloodshed between when the uprising began in earnest in the mid Eighties till a cease-fire in 2005.
Armed movements of many stripes is the ‘elephant in the room’ of Indian security, probably the most high profile being the Marxist-leaning Naxalite movement: according to the India-based, Institute for Conflict Management, there are twenty six active armed groups just in the Assam region alone. (link: http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/icm/index.html)
Sonali Ghosh’s presentation was prescient: two days later four men on motorcycles shot and killed two Muslims in lower Assam and since then 80 people have been killed throughout the region, prompting the Army to be sent in to restore order while the killings reverberate around the whole of India. The situation is so serious that it prompted an article this week (August 25th) by The Economist headlined ‘A neglected crisis’ (link: http://www.economist.com/node/21560901)
For the Manas reserve the upsurge in violence has an ominous fore-boding: before the 2005 cease-fire rampant poaching took hold with tiger and elephant numbers plummeting and the Indian rhinos extirpated.
Since the cease-fire the park was gradually restored with money and effort, including the reintroduction of the rhino and clouded leopard, and culminated in the removal last year (2011) of Manas from UNESCO’s World Heritage in Danger list.
Coincidentally the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have just announced a major effort to create ‘biodiversity corridors’ in the Kangchenjunga region of the Himalayas that includes north east India, Bhutan and Nepal (link: http://www.icimod.org/?q=8211)
Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre