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Rare avian species facing extinction threat
Anamika Das
 TINSUKIA, Nov 15 – Situated in the extreme east of the State and 13 km north of Tinsukia city, Dibru-Saikhowa is one of the bio-diversity hotspots of the country. But rare avian species have been facing the threat of extinction here. If people are not aware about the need to conserve all this, soon the area will lose this rich bio-diversity as well as diverse avifauna in the coming years.

Being the centre of endemic avian species of Assam, all grasslands of the Brahmaputra valley are ecologically important because almost all endangered species are breeding and living on the grasslands here. And the grass land of Dibru-Saikhowa are not only ecologically important but also are home to the endemic birds of the State such as the Black breasted Parrot Bill (Paradoxornis flavirastrs) Marsh Babbler (Pellorneum Pulestre) and Manipur Bush Quail (Perdicula Manipurensis). These are the three species that have been exclusively identified by Bombay National History Society ( BNHS) in their bird area programme for Assam. But during the survey, conducted by Ranjan Kumar Das, a senior lecturer of Geography of Tinsukia College by profession and an ornithologist who also got recognition for his photographs on birds from Oriental Bird Club (OBC) of England in the last couple of years not a single sighting of Manipur Bush Quail was recorded while sighting of Black breasted Parrot Bill were very rare.

With about 484 species of avifauna, 36 mammalian species 62 aquatic species, 105 species of butterflies, it covers an area of about 340 sq kms as core area along with 425 sq kms as buffer zone. Bordered by the Brahmaputra on its northern side and Dibru river on its south, Dibru-Saikhowa was declared as National Park in 1999 under the provision of Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.

This is the National Park which is generally open for tourists for 12 months in a year. The avifauna species of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park includes Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Large Whistling Griffon Vulture, Osprey, Spot Billed Pelican among which White Winged Duck, Black breasted Parrot Bill and Bengal Florican are the main attraction for tourists – both domestic and foreign, said sources of the Forest department. All though it is kept open through out the year, the number of tourists especially bird watchers rises between November to April as it becomes a harbour of migratory birds too.

However this avian population is facing threat extinction due to presence of Laika (covering 18.3 sq kms) and Dadhia (covering 28.5 sq kms) forest villages in the core. It is worth mentioning that the villages of Laika and Dadhia are the major concern for conservation activists at the National Park which is already reeling under severe anthropogenic pressure. Dibru-Saikhowa was given National Park status without shifting these villages elsewhere outside the park. On the one hand, the villagers here are deprived of their privileges as envisaged in the rules for establishment and control of forest villages under section 72 (C ) 74 and 75 of Assam Forest Regulation Act 1891, and on the other hand, they are allegedly involved in illegal activities like poaching, poisoning in water bodies, timber smuggling within the National Park as the means of livelihood.

Moreover presence of “Khutis” in the fringe of core exerts a continuous pressure on grass land, thereby rendering the habitat unfit for wild herbivores. A few years back, Raidang Grassland was inhabited by one of the endemic species Black breasted Parrot Bill. But the heavy gazing by cattle in these areas, has affected the bird population.

Besides, natural calamity by all the rivers is another important matter that threatens the National Park. According to records, the park has lost 93 sq kms (approx) area due to erosion.

Talking to this correspondent, the Divisional Forest Officer, Tinsukia Dr Vaibhav. C Mathur, expressed his regret on extremely dismal manpower scenario and rapid extension of Laika and Dadhia village. “With a strength of 19 permanent staff and 12 camps, lack of proper infrastructure, it is very difficult to manage a 340 sq. kms area,” he said and added that lack of support from local organisation hampers eco development activities and also erratic release of funds makes management discontinuous and unsustainable.

Law and order situation in the buffer zone and the looming threats of insurgency also hampers works to a considerable extent. The timber mafia is very active in the region and illegally felled logs from Arunachal Pradesh make their way along the southern boundary of the park. The DFO also informed that they require more staff and camps for effective supervision and protection of the park.

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