From 11 to 19 February 2008, a joint World Heritage Centre / IUCN monitoring mission visited the property, as requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 31st session (Christchurch, 2007). A report on the state of conservation of the property was provided by the State Party on 29 January 2008, which was reviewed by the mission team.
The mission was able to visit the different parts of the property and held discussions with various stakeholders, including officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forest, the Forestry Department of the State of Assam and the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), park staff, scientists, national NGO representatives, local NGO representatives and members as well as inhabitants of local villages. The mission report is available online at the following Web address: http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2008.
The mission reviewed progress in the implementation of the corrective measures, adopted by the World Heritage Committee at its 29th session (Durban, 2005):
a) Accelerating efforts to re-build park infrastructure
The mission acknowledged the important efforts made since the 2005 mission to re-built the park infrastructure and concluded that these can probably be completed during the next one to two years if the necessary funding is available.
b) Filling of vacant positions within the park
With more than 100 positions still vacant, the mission considered this recommendation not yet fully implemented and acknowledged the efforts by the park authorities and BTC to address this issue through the volunteer scheme it has set up in together with local NGO, but noted the need to make this staff increase sustainable by integrating the best volunteers within the permanent park staff.
c) Ensuring timely release of funds by the Assam Government
No progress was made on this matter and the mission considers that this recommendation so far has not been implemented.
d) Undertaking a comprehensive wildlife survey to demonstrate recovery of wildlife populations
No reliable data on wildlife status and tendencies were made available to the mission during the visit. The state of conservation of most of the key species remains unclear and controversial; the mission regretted that the recommendation made by the 2005 mission to undertake urgently a specific survey that provides the baseline to assess and monitor the wildlife and provides indications on the trends, at least of the key species, was not implemented.
e) Transboundary cooperation
The mission noted the efforts to further strengthen cooperation with the management authority of the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, which has expressed interest in a potential World Heritage listing.
Although work remains to be done, the mission commended the State Party, and in particular the Park Management, the Bodoland Territorial Council, national and local NGOs for the efforts already undertaken in starting the restoration of the property and the implementation of the corrective measures. It highlighted in particular the very positive contributions from the local communities.
The mission remained concerned about the continued reports it received on illegal logging and poaching, in particular in the western part of the property, the Panbari range. It acknowledged that substantial efforts have been made to strengthen the law enforcement and to better protect wildlife and that progress definitely had been made since the 2005 mission but noted information by local stakeholders of continued poaching and deforestation pressures in the Panbari range.
The mission confirmed the assessment of the 2005 mission that the outstanding universal value of the property has been significantly impacted by the past civil strife, in particular as a result of the important reduction of the populations of the rare and endangered species, which constituted an important justification for its inscription on the World Heritage List. However, apart from the one-horned rhino, which has become locally extinct and the swamp deer, of which the remaining population seems at critical low levels, there are no indications that other key wildlife species have become extinct in the property. For the one-horned rhino, a reintroduction program is currently underway. Therefore the mission concludes that the outstanding universal value for which the property was inscribed on the World Heritage List is still present and can still be fully recovered.
No sufficient data were provided to allow an assessment of the current status of wildlife populations and their recovery process, as the base line survey requested by the World Heritage Committee was never implemented. Based on the observations during the field visit and discussions held with various stakeholders, the mission estimated that recovery had only just started and was still in its initial stages.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN are of the opinion that the property cannot be taken out of the List of World Heritage in Danger until the recovery of key wildlife populations can be assessed. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider viable populations of all key wildlife species and a clear upward trend of these populations, confirming the recovery process, as key elements of the desired state of conservation for a removal of the property from the List of World Heritage in Danger. Species specific targets could be set in consultation with the State Party as soon as a baseline survey is completed.
With no baseline data available, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN point out that it is very difficult to estimate the timing necessary to show this trend. However, on the condition that a baseline survey is completed this year and that a monitoring system for key species is set up in connection to the survey, such a clear trend could probably be shown in 2 to 3 years.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN encourage the State Party to pursue its efforts to implement the corrective measures already adopted by the World Heritage Committee and also further strengthen park management in the Panbari range, continue the reintroduction programme of the one-horned rhino and assess the need and feasibility for a restoration programme of the swamp deer.
The mission was further informed about on-going efforts to strengthen the protection status of remaining high value reserve forests outside the property, in particular parts of the Manas Reserve Forest bordering the western boundary of the national park and the Ripu and Chirang Reserve Forests further to the west in order to create a “Greater Manas”. This could create the necessary conditions for the long term conservation of viable populations of large carnivores and herbivores, such as tiger and elephant. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN strongly support these efforts, which will greatly contribute to the integrity and long-term conservation of the outstanding universal value of the property.
The mission noted that the existing management plan is no longer valid and stresses the need to finalize the revision of the management plan. The revised plan should present a clear vision for the future management of the property and address amongst other the following questions of major importance: wildlife monitoring, invasive species, land use management and fire utilization. Particular attention should also be paid to the development of a tourism strategy.