In February 2007, the State Party submitted a Rapid Rural Assessment of Wildlife Values of the property. This report included information on the status of habitat and key wildlife species within the park, NGO conservation efforts, and administrative issues. The State Party has reported on progress for three of the four corrective measures adopted by the Committee at its 29th session (Durban, 2005) and on progress in implementing some of the other recommendations of the 2005 UNESCO/IUCN mission.
Following progress was reported in the implementation of the corrective measures:
a) Accelerate efforts to re-build Park infrastructure
The State Party has reported on good progress in re-building Park infrastructure with 29 camps currently operational. Volunteers and the Forest Department are also involved in ongoing activities to clear roads and trails. The report did not include new information on communication within the Park, particularly re-building of bridges and culverts.
b) Take prompt measures to fill vacant positions within the park
A current shortfall of 140 positions out of 445 sanctioned posts is reported, but interviews are underway for filling these positions.
c) Ensure timely release of funds to the Park, in compliance with the recent Supreme Court ruling of the State Party
The State Party has not reported on park funding in relation to the release of funds.
d) Undertake a comprehensive wildlife survey in the Park, which could act as a future baseline for monitoring recovery of the property
The State Party report acknowledged that the short time period and time of year of the assessment produced only limited quantifiable data that could be used for establishing baselines for key wildlife species.
A tiger census has been planned for March 2007 as there has been no tiger census data since 2000, which showed a decline from the high of 89 tigers recorded in 1997 to 65 tigers in 2000. The most recent elephant census was in 2005, showing a decline of over 50% from 567 elephants in 2002 to 247 elephants in 2005. There is an active rhinoceros reintroduction programme with a single female having been brought to an enclosure in the Park in 2006. There is no data showing the presence of swamp deer, which therefore, appears to have become locally extinct.
The State Party has also reported on contributions by the NGO community which include an innovative use of former poachers in conservation.
The State Party’s report includes little information on progress in implementing the other of the 2005 mission recommendations except for the establishment of a camp in Panbari Range Area of the Manas World Heritage property. Specifically no information is provided on the following recommendations from the 2005 monitoring mission:
(i) working with Bhutan to form a transboundary property, and holding consultation between India and Bhutan in relation to the release of water from the upstream dam in Bhutan;
(ii) coordination between Park staff and the Bodo people on planning and conservation activities;
(iii) identifying sources of funding, the Supreme Court ruling and the timely release of funds for park management, mechanisms for transferring funds directly to the site such as the Wildlife Areas Development and Welfare Trust, and mechanisms for revenue generation;
(iv) management plan for invasive species;
(v) defining roles and expectations of all relevant stakeholders in relation to future community development activities.
IUCN and the World Heritage Centre welcome the State Party’s progress on re-building infrastructure, filling vacancies, and carrying out the rapid assessment of wildlife in the Park. However, it is noted that further work is requried to achieve these benchmarks, as well as in relation to the wildlife survey as such information is essential for assessing the maintenance of Outstanding Universal Value of the property.
IUCN and the World Heritage Centre note the inconsistency in the elephant population between the State Party’s reports for 2006 and 2007. The 2006 report noted an increase from 567 to 658 (covers the larger area of the Chirag Ripu Elephant Reserve), whereas the 2007 report indicated a decline from 567 to 247. This inconsistency should be clarified.
While the rapid assessment of wildlife is a very positive step in understanding the status of key species, accurate information for the key species is needed to provide the baseline required for the development of clear benchmarks. It is also noted that the information on bird populations and bird habitats is very limited.
IUCN and the World Heritage Centre note that all approvals in relation to the World Heritage Biodiversity Programme of India have now been secured and hope that implementation of its activities would commence soon. This was recognized by the Committee, in the decision made at its 29th session (Durban, 2005), as being crucial support for conservation of the property.