BORNADI (UDALGURI), Dec 21 - The picturesque Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary in Udalguri district bordering Bhutan continues to bear the brunt of neglect and apathy by the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and the State government.
While its flagship species, the critically-endangered pygmy hog, has become almost extinct in the face of rapidly shrinking grassland habitat, the sanctuary, which is part of the larger Manas Tiger Reserve complex, besides forming a contiguous stretch with the Bhutan forests on the north, suffers from a shocking lack of manpower, infrastructure and amenities.
The 26.21-sq km sanctuary is currently manned by just 13 staff including officials, and three of those are on the verge of retirement.
Of the total seven camps, only the Nalapara camp is functional and the rest of the camps at Ghopakana, Bamuninala, Alongjhar, Rajagarh, Pilkjara and Guabari stand abandoned.
�It is not possible to stay in these ramshackle camps and there is also acute shortage of manpower,� range officer Alok Pathak told The Assam Tribune. Of the two vehicles, one is in running condition in addition to three motorcycles.
It hardly merits surprise that this sorry situation is adversely affecting the sanctuary�s security. �Round-the-clock patrolling is impossible with this skeletal staff and barring one, all the camps are abandoned. We have been helped by two NGO volunteers in patrolling,� he added.
The sanctuary is a major elephant habitat and has around 25 resident elephants in addition to the many that take shelter seasonally while migrating. �The sanctuary has human settlements and tea gardens right on its boundary and we need manpower to monitor elephant movement,� Pathak said.
Water shortage during the lean winter is another persisting problem in the sanctuary. There are five artificial ponds dug by the forest authorities to ensure water supply to the wildlife but lack of maintenance has reduced their water retention capacity. Almost all the ponds are now covered with water hyacinths and weeds.
�We had submitted a proposal of solar-powered water reservoirs to ensure adequate water level in the ponds but things have not materialized yet. Also pending with the authorities is a proposal for restoration of 50 hectares of grassland habitat,� another forest official said.
Conservationist Pranjal Bezbaruah said that unless appropriate measures such as uprooting, burning, replanting, etc., were taken to restore Bornadi�s grassland, it would severely impact its fauna and flora.
�Bornadi�s grasslands have shrunk drastically due to the onslaught of invasive weeds. There are scientific methods of grassland restoration and those need to be applied here after soil testing to see which intervention would be best for it,� he said.
Conservationist and Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udalguri Jayanta Kumar Das blamed the authorities for the plight of Bornadi and said that grassland restoration measures should have been taken long back. �It is always difficult to do restoration once vast stretches have come under invasive weeds. The security and infrastructure of the sanctuary also needs urgent augmentation,� he said.
Poor grassland management and attack of invasive species apart, mounting anthropogenic pressures have taken a toll on the sanctuary. With croplands expanding right up to the boundaries of Bornadi, the sanctuary�s much-needed buffer areas have vanished.
�Till 20 years back there used to be a green buffer along the southern boundary but that has disappeared as the land was allotted injudiciously by the government authorities for crop cultivation,� Das said.
Among the oldest protected areas of the State, Bornadi was declared a reserve forest in 1942 and elevated to a wildlife sanctuary in 1980 to enhance long-term conservation prospects of the pygmy hog and the hispid hare.
Bornadi also shelters elephant, tiger, leopard, black leopard, gaur, pangolin, capped langur, slow loris, sambar, barking deer, hog deer, wild dog, porcupine, etc., and a sizeable avian population, including four species of the hornbill, and migratory birds.
The sanctuary � acclaimed for its scenic beauty � is bordered by the rivers Bornadi and Nalanadi in the west and east respectively.