GUWAHATI, July 11 - While conservationists are increasingly stressing the importance of engaging the inhabitants of fringe areas of forests in conservation, the reality is that across most forests the relationship between the forest authorities and the fringe communities happens to be one of constant friction, occasionally degenerating to downright hostility.
It is in consonance with the growing realization about turning the fringe people into active stakeholders in the conservation process that WWF-India is working with local communities in collaboration with the Forest Department in the fringe of Kaziranga Tiger Reserve for motivating local villagers towards conservation through various initiatives, including those aimed at promoting sustainable livelihood.
The sixth addition of Kaziranga National Park � the biggest of the additions with an area of 376.50 sq km covering mostly the Brahmaputra and its bank from east to west including various river islands to the north of the park � assumes tremendous significance for Kaziranga�s long-term well-being.
�Kaziranga�s wildlife often strays out to these islands during flood and also in other seasons. Monitoring and protection of these straying animals is a major challenge for the Kaziranga authorities, as poachers invariably target the animals using the river islands as well as along the entire river stretch. If the local communities living in the fringe of the sixth addition are engaged in conservation, they can play an important role for the protection of wildlife,� Dr PJ Bora of WWF-India told The Assam Tribune.
Most of these local communities have been depending on the Brahmaputra river and the islands of the sixth addition for their day-to-day livelihood for long. Consequently, conflict between the Kaziranga authorities and the villagers has been a major problem. These areas in the North Bank were not even included under Eco Development Committees (EDCs) which were formed in 2003 on the south of the park only. Currently, ten EDCs out of a total of 33 receive fund from the government for their village development and also for their alternative livelihood activities.
Now the Kaziranga authorities have decided to form EDCs in the North Bank as well with the first such EDC formally announced recently following a public meeting at Gopal Jharoni by Suvashis Das, DFO, Eastern Assam Wildlife Division for KNP.
�We expect this initiative to gain ground in the North Bank, which will boost conservation of Kaziranga through community participation. The villagers have pledged their support to us and also assured us that they would not fish inside the sixth addition. We believe that this partnership will thrive in the days ahead,� Das said, adding that skill development programmes for the local youths in the North Bank would be encouraged by the Forest Department.