GUWAHATI, Aug 8 - The proposed Dehing Patkai national park will have an area at least double the size of the present wildlife sanctuary, according to the State forest department. The department has started the process of upgrading the 111.19-sq km wildlife sanctuary to a national park.
Forest sources told The Assam Tribune that the department was keen to at least double the area of the sanctuary and the details including maps were being prepared for the purpose.
�A meeting of the department chaired by the PCCF yesterday decided on adding the rest of the Jeypore reserve forest under Digboi Division to the proposed national park. Similarly, some 35 sq km of Upper Dehing (West Block) RF and Dirok RF would also be added. Jeypore RF comprises 110 sq km of which only 24 sq km are inside the sanctuary at present,� sources said, acknowledging that merely upgrading the sanctuary to a national park would not serve much purpose without enhancing its area substantially.
Conservationists made a strong pitch for expanding the area of the sanctuary when the State government had announced its upgrading to a national park on July 7 in the wake of a sustained media campaign. The Assam Tribune did a series of investigative reports exposing widespread illegal mining and logging in the Dehing Patkai range.
Sources added that Oil India Limited had a few stakes in some of the proposed extension areas but those lacked legal status and as such it would not be difficult to incorporate those areas in the proposed national park.
�We will also create a wildlife division for the national park. A detailed proposal for the national park would be prepared within a week,� sources said.
The sanctuary is part of a much larger contiguous habitat of rainforests (937 sq km) � officially classified as Assam Valley Tropical Wet Evergreen Forest � that extends to the three districts of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sivasagar. However, the entire belt is not linked today, as the forests have endured destruction and fragmentation.
Terming the incorporation of the entire Jeypore RF area as a must, a senior forest official said that it would boost long-term conservation of the national park. �Jeypore is rich in biodiversity � both faunal and floral. It has extremely luxuriant tree cover and diverse wildlife. The State tree holong can be seen at its majestic height along this stretch, towering over 50 metres,� he said.
Many of the nearly 50 species of mammals found in the sanctuary were documented in the Jeypore RF area during a camera-trapping study conducted by wildlife biologist Dr Kashmira Kakati during 2007-2009.
�The importance of Jeypore RF can hardly be overemphasized. It was for the first time in the world that seven species of cats, including the tiger, were recorded from just one site. It is also a major elephant habitat,� she said.
Conservation activist Mridupawan Phukan, who has done extensive documentation of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and the elephant reserve, said that in addition to an area of 86 sq km from Jeypore, 30 sq km of the adjoining Dilli RF that borders Arunachal Pradesh could be added to the national park. Another sizeable area can be incorporated from the 275-sq km Upper Dehing (West Block) RF,� he said, adding that an extended national park would also ensure undisturbed contiguity with the Arunachal Pradesh forests, including the Deomali Elephant Reserve.
The presence of a sizeable elephant population in the Dehing Patkai range and also the tiger � not to mention its importance as the best refuge of white-winged wood duck, Assam�s State bird � further buttresses the claim for expanding the proposed national park.