Reels and Rifles

Located in the Bodoland Territorial Area Districts of Assam, India, Manas National Park (MNP) is home to numerous endangered species, including tigers, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Ethno-political conflict from the 1980s until 2003 disrupted conservation activities and impacted the wildlife of the park; for example, during this period the Indian rhino was locally extirpated and had to be reintroduced. As it was difficult to conduct studies and implement conservation activities during this period, surveys are currently assessing the assemblage and distribution of mammalian species in the region and how it was affected by the conflict. Additionally, such information is critical in determining efficient ways to resume and implement conservation activities in the region.

In 2017, Lahkar et al conducted camera-trapping surveys across three forest ranges, Panbari, Bansbari and Bhuyanpara of MNP. The team setup cameras at 118 sites for 6,100 days and documented the species captured. Despite two decades of conflict, the study confirmed that the mammalian species assemblage in MNP appears to be intact although abundances were most likely depressed. Nevertheless, large predator photo-captures were greater in Panbari while prey species were more frequently photo-captured in Bansbari and Bhuyanpara. The study hypothesised that, armed militants camping inside Panbari for two to three years preceding this survey most likely hunted ungulate species for food. Additionally, the conflict zone could have acted as a refuge for large carnivores. In Bansbari and Bhuvanpara, conflict ended in 2003 and conservation measures allowed for ungulate populations to recover.

The study concludes that ethnopolitical conflict has a negative effect on the spatial distribution of a species within a region. Additionally, it highlights the usefulness of camera traps in capturing distributions in zones of conflict. Finally, the information gathered by the study may be useful in informing future conservation activities in the region.
Further Reading:
Lahkar, D., Ahmed, M. F., Begum, R. H., Das, S. K., Lahkar, B. P., Sarma, H. K., & Harihar, A. (2018). Camera-trapping survey to assess diversity, distribution and photographic capture