ATREE’s field offices in Assam and Darjeeling were necessary to the long term projects at both stations. At present, they provide an additional base to work in the Eastern Himalaya region, launched from the regional office in Gangtok, Sikkim.
The Darjeeling goal has been to build models of natural resource management to enhance livelihoods and ecological services. The approach to accomplishing this has been through:
India, one of the earliest signatories to the World Heritage Convention, has only five key Protected Areas currently on UNESCO’s World Heritage List - Kaziranga and Manas in Assam, Keoladeo in Rajasthan, Nanda Devi in Uttaranchal and Sundarbans in West Bengal. These sites seek to conserve the most significant natural and biodiversity heritage.
Kaziranga National Park, located in the heart of Assam in northeast India, is recognised as one of the most successfully managed protected areas in the world. It is home to the world’s largest population of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros. It has among the highest density of tigers, along with large breeding populations of elephant, water buffalo and swamp deer. It is recognised as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International for conservation of avifaunal species. UNESCO declared Kaziranga as a World Heritage Site in 1985. The park celebrated its centenary in 2005.
Manas National Park, located in Assam along the eastern Himalayan foothills bordering Bhutan, is a combination of spectacular beauty and unique habitat. Apart from the charismatic carnivore and herbivore species, the park is famous for its rare and endangered wildlife found nowhere else in the world: like the Assam roofed turtle, hispid hare, golden langur and pygmy hog. It has the largest population of the endangered Bengal florican, besides other major bird species. Manas National Park is also a designated tiger reserve, elephant reserve and biosphere reserve. UNESCO declared Manas as a World Heritage Site in 1985. However, this designation was revised in 1992 to WHS in danger due to destruction of park infrastructure and depletion of forest habitat and wildlife population resulting from ethnic insurgency in the region. The situation is now under control and the park is in a stage of recovery.
ATREE concluded its role in the World Heritage Biodiversity Programme – India (WHBPI)which was implemented as an UNESCO initiative in four World Natural Heritage Sites in India, namely Kaziranga, Manas, Keoladeo and Nanda Devi National Parks during 2008 – 2013. ATREE was appointed agency for creating an implementation framework that could serve as a template for the long-term management and conservation for Kaziranga and Manas in Assam.
The project included ecological research as well as socio-economic components, in addition to management, governance and outreach activities. The principle underlying planning and implementation was to follow consultative and participatory methods both formal and informal. ATREE associated with multiple stakeholders, ranging from government to non-government organizations, forest department and academics, park authorities and local communities at different levels of the project. An Advisory Committee chaired by the state chief wildlife warden guided project activities. The review of implementation was periodically carried out by a Steering Committee chaired by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (GoI) and the donors.
Strengthening capacity: This has consisted of financial support for an elephant camp, beat camps and anti-poaching patrol. Wireless equipment, winter apparel and field items have been supplied to forest staff. Legal training on wildlife crimes has been organized for forest staff.
Involving local communities: ATREE is consulting with community for mechanisms to address human-wildlife conflict and is engaging local NGOs in project activities. The project has funded construction of anti-depredation watch-towers in the park-village fringes to protect farmland and prevent retaliation against wild animals. A vaccination camp has been undertaken for cattle owned by the forest-fringe villagers that may reduce transmission of cattle-borne disease from domestic bovid to their wild counterparts. An ambulance vehicle each has been provided to the two sites for transporting patients from fringe villages to hospitals for urgent medical treatment. Medical health camps for staff and villagers have been organized on site.
Habitat connectivity: Retro-reflective signboards have been placed along strategic locations to educate road/highway users of potential animal crossing zones in Kaziranga.
Research and monitoring: ATREE’s research team has initiated field work in Manas with camera-trap monitoring of prey-predator population and quadrats for vegetation study.
Management and governance: A multi-stakeholder Advisory Committee to oversee implementation of the WHBPI project has been officially notified by the Government of Assam.
Raising profile in civil society: The project has introduced a unique scholarship scheme for students and young scholars covering primary and high school students from fringe villages of the national parks. Efforts have been initiated for pictorial documentation of biodiversity, and a new website has been developed for Kaziranga (www.worldheritagekaziranga.com). Most of these tasks will be intensified and continued in the forthcoming years of the project.
ATREE administered the project through its project office in Guwahati and field-based activities in the WHS, under the supervision of the Bangalore head-office. Ford Foundation, SM Sehgal Foundation and UN Foundation were the donor agencies for this project.
NirajKakati, Coordinator; Dhritiman Das, PhD Scholar; Arunava Gupta, Project Associate; NilmaniRabha, Research Assistant; Puspanjalee Das, Project Assistant;
Bhabananda Roy, Field Assistant; HimangshuSarma, Project Accounts Executive;
Gladwin Joseph, Project Supervisor.