GUWAHATI, July 9 � While the rich mammal and avian diversity of the Manas National Park is well documented, information on reptiles and amphibians of the vast trans-border landscape, comprising the Manas National Park (India) and the Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan continues to be scanty.
A rapid herpetofaunal survey conducted from June 16 to 24 as part of a trans-boundary conservation initiative, funded and led by both the park authorities, indicates that the Manas landscape has a herpetofaunal wealth which is richer than is generally assumed.
Preliminary results have shown the presence of at least 55 species of herpetofauna, comprising 20 amphibian species and 35 reptile species for the trans-boundary landscape. Some of the noteworthy species recorded include the green tree frog, bubble nest frog, twin spotted tree frog, blue fan-throated lizard, water monitor lizard, king cobra and Pope's pit viper.
"Most of the herpetofaunal species recorded from the Royal Manas National Park are new country records for Bhutan. Some of the species found are of utmost scientific interest and the Manas National Park in India was found to hold an admixture of Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese elements.
Habitat patches at Lotajhar, Doimari inside the Manas National Park were found to be particularly rich in forest species, whereas the grassland-wetland areas, such as Kuribeel under Bansbari Range, were identified as critical turtle habitat of the park," Sonali Ghosh, Deputy Director, Manas National Park, told The Assam Tribune.
The technical team was led by herpetologist Dr Abhijit Das of Wildlife Institute of India along with other researchers from WII, Arya Vidyapeeth College, Gauhati University and NGO Aaranyak, along with frontline staff of the various anti-poaching camps.
The survey was conducted in a diversity of habitats, viz., semi-evergreen forest, moist deciduous forest and Terai-Bhabar grasslands emphasizing critical herpetological microhabitats. In all of these habitats, sites like forest streams, forest under-storey, rocky areas, and water-logged areas in the interior of forest were sampled mostly using visual-encounter search. The survey was carried out both in day and night hours keeping in view the activity pattern of diurnal and nocturnal species.
Dr Abhijit Das said that the survey indicated a bewildering herpetofaunal diversity of the landscape much of which is still unknown. He emphasized on the need for conducting long-term and periodic surveys to have a better understanding of the species richness and ecology, which would eventually contribute to the conservation of this ecologically important group.
The Indo-Bhutan Manas landscape is one the world's single largest protected area landscapes and is known for its diverse assemblage of flora and fauna. This is mainly due to the fact that it lies at the juncture of two biodiversity hotspots, i.e., Himalayan and Indo-Burmese biodiversity hotspots. The Indian part of this landscape, specifically Manas National Park, holds the status of UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.
Another component of the trans-boundary conservation initiative was to train the frontline staff of the Forest Department in both the study locations, i.e., MNP and RMNP, so as to inculcate in them the understanding towards reptile and amphibian conservation in their respective areas. To fulfil the aim, training on PowerPoint presentation and hands-on training on survey methodology, acoustics search in case of amphibians, reptile handling, identification of venomous and non-venomous snakes, morphometry of frogs and lizards, photo documentation and data maintenance were also imparted to the field staff.
RP Agarwalla, PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, lauded the initiative and urged the MNP authorities to propose annual faunal surveys as part of their APOs so that they could be included as a regular activity of wildlife management in protected areas.
Dr VB Mathur, Director Wildlife Institute of India, said that the results would further strengthen the case for declaring a trans-boundary UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site.