GUWAHATI, July 24 - Famed for its diverse wildlife and flora, including many species endemic to it, the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is caught in a grim battle for survival. A shockingly inadequate security mechanism, abysmal infrastructure and expanding human settlements inside this unique wildlife habitat have combined to push it to the brink.
A skeletal force of 50 frontline staff guards the sprawling 340-sq-km national park, which has an even bigger buffer zone of 425 sq km. Against the requirement of 50 forest camps, there are just 11 camps that are running with little amenities.
�There is an urgent need to enhance its manpower and strengthen its overall security mechanism. The national park, which is also a biosphere reserve with a bigger area, requires better infrastructure,� MK Dhar, Divisional Forest Officer, Dibru-Saikhowa, told The Assam Tribune.
As a substantial part of the national park remains perennially under water, mechanised boats and floating camps are another necessity, but the Forest Department is little bothered even as timber smugglers and poachers enjoy a field day.
Yet another debilitating concern stems from the fact that the two forest villages inside the national park � Dadhia and Laika � are expanding and adding more human and livestock population every year. The much-talked-about relocation and rehabilitation plan of the State Government continues to gather dust in official files while the villages now have a combined population of 6,131 people.
�It is unlikely that the two villages would be relocated elsewhere. While villagers in Laika had agreed to a resettlement package, a section of residents of Dadhia village filed a court case, demanding land instead of financial compensation. Unless the Government intervenes in a big way, no relocation will materialise,� sources in Dispur said.
Conservationists squarely hold the Forest Department and the State Government responsible for the mess created in Dibru-Saikhowa.
The two forest villages inside the protected area have spread out manifold in the past decade, as little was done to expedite their relocation outside the protected area. As per data based on satellite imagery a few years back, the two villages occupy a combined space of 46.85 sq km against the original 3.73 sq km.
�The ominous fallout has been large-scale deforestation and mounting anthropogenic pressure on the forest resources besides a spurt in acts inimical to conservation interests. Illegal tree-felling is rampant inside the forests as is poaching. Flood-induced damages are also a cause of concern,� Asif Ahmed Hazarika, conservationist and wildlife researcher, said.
According to Hazarika, who has studied the Dibru-Saikhowa landscape for over two decades, while the feral or semi-wild horses � a flagship species of the park � has a good population (80 as per 2011 census), the white-winged wood duck, another notable resident of the forest and Assam�s State bird, is on the wane.
Hazarika suggested that Dibru-Saikhowa, which has a good tiger population, be upgraded to a tiger reserve for long-term security of its fauna and flora.
The existing security set-up in Dibru-Saikhowa negates the prospects of rhino translocation to the park conceived under the Indian Rhino Vision-2020. �The very fact that Dibru-Saikhowa is one of the few sites for rhino translocation testifies to its significance. But its security concerns must be addressed at the earliest for rhino translocation as well as for securing long-term interests of the park,� a Rhino Vision official said.
Falling in the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot, Dibru-Saikhowa�s uniqueness is enhanced by its proximity to the transition zone of the Eastern Himalayan and Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot.
Dibru-Saikhowa�s wildlife includes its famed feral horses, tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, elephant, buffalo, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, slow loris, sambar deer, white-winged wood-duck and Gangetic river dolphin, among many others. A recognised Important Bird Area (IBA) site with over 500 recorded avian species so far, it has also been classified as Assam Plains Endemic Bird Area.
Located some 12 km north of Tinsukia town, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park consists mainly of wet evergreen forests, tropical moist deciduous forest, canebrakes and grasslands. It is the largest Salix swamp forest in the Northeast.