GUWAHATI, Aug 11 - The move of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) and the State Government to set up a full-fledged Agro-Forestry and Biodiversity College at the site of the defunct Central Seeds Farm (later Kokilabari Agri Farm) at Kokilabari on the fringes of Manas National Park and Tiger Reserve could destroy one of the few remaining habitats of the critically-endangered Bengal florican.
Endemic to a few pockets of the Indian subcontinent besides Vietnam and Cambodia, the global Bengal florican population is less than 1,500, with a sizeable number finding a secure home in Manas. And the area in and around the abandoned agri farm has been a major breeding ground for this rare bird.
Sources in the Forest department told The Assam Tribune that the move to set up a college would be a severe blow to Bengal florican conservation, as the construction of a full-fledged college and its subsequent functioning would effectively drive out the birds from the area.
�A shy and elusive bird, the Bengal florican needs undisturbed habitat. The seeds farm and later the agri farm did not particularly affect it, as those have been in an abandoned state for long. But the presence of a full-fledged college is bound to cause irreparable damage to its habitat,� sources said.
Moreover, the area also serves as an important wildlife corridor for many animals including the tiger. �The area, in fact, is critical for Manas Tiger Reserve as a whole. There should be no dearth of site for construction of a college without harming the Bengal florican and Manas. The authorities should explore other options,� sources added.
Significantly, among the five major locations of the Bengal florican in Manas, the farm area accounts for its maximum presence, according to a survey by conservation body Aaranyak.
A conservationist well-versed with the Manas landscape said that the move to set up a college at the farm site was uncalled for, and completely ignored critical conservation concerns.
�The area � around 9 sq km � has been a secure home for the Bengal florican besides serving as an important animal corridor. A large educational institution will completely alter its face and make it out of bound for this highly-endangered bird, which also happens to be the world�s rarest bustard. The bird has been maintaining its territory in the area for decades,� he said.
Critical wildlife habitat near the fringe areas of Manas has already suffered widespread deforestation and fragmentation. �The least we can do is to hasten the fragmentation process. There will be lots of suitable places for construction of the college,� he added.
The site of the Seeds Farm was leased out from Kokilabari Reserved Forest in 1972. The lease was extended once in 2002. Conservationists feel that the Forest department should have taken back the land�s custody instead of extending the lease in the greater interest of Manas.