LOCATION: Manas Biosphere ReservE, Assam, India
TARGET SPECIES: Asian Elephant
STATUS: ESTABLISHED (SUSTAINED BY LOCAL LEADERS)
As the Golden Langur Conservation Project began attracting more communities who then formed conservation groups it began to focus on the Manas Biosphere Reserve which was the forest habitat for the largest population of golden langurs. The Manas Biosphere is also home to many other species of animals including the endemic pigmy hog and is a major corridor for a viable population of Asian elephants and is one of the more important areas for tiger conservation.
In 2004, the complex political scene in western Assam changed when the two Bodo tribal militant groups settled with the Central Government. The Bodo Liberation Tigers signed an agreement with the Central government and eventually formed the Bodo Territorial Council which came to administer about a quarter of Assam under the Assam Government which included the Manas Biosphere. The second militant group, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland declared a cease fire and established a complex outside of the forest. Despite this political settling the illegal loggers still “owned” the forest and still threatened the Assam Forest Department staff and the local villagers. The late Rajen Islari, President of Green Conservation approached Shri Kampa Borgoyari, minister of Environment for the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) requesting funds so he could create a Forest Protection Force to protect the western Reserve Forests of the Biosphere.
This became successful and other community organizations formed to protect their area forests until today there are 18 community groups protecting the entire Biosphere, an area of about 285,000 hectares. In order to encourage BTC, CC obtained grants from the US Fish & Wildlife Service Asian Elephant Program. Together the BTC and the UF&WS have been supporting approximately 300 Forest Protection Forces across the Biosphere to protect a population of about 1200 elephants and an uncensused population of tigers as well as an area of great biodiversity. Until that time only the Manas National Park, an area of 500km2 had adequate protection. Now the complete Biosphere is protected by Forest Protection Forces of the 18 community organizations forming the Unified Forest Conservation Network.