Wildlife & Biodiversity

Development projects threaten Bengal florican habitat in Assam

Bustard Specialist group experts write to Assam CM to drawn attention to the crisis

By Roopak Goswami
Published: Monday 18 October 2021

The Bustard Specialist Group (BSG) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature wrote to the Assam government recently on the urgent need to prevent land-use changes at Kokilabari Seed Farm in the state to protect Bengal floricans and other species. 

Land-use changes at the site, which houses 25 Bengal floricans, is posing a threat to the critically endangered bird.

The group is also worried about the plan to convert the farm into a university campus. “We  support moves to improve higher education but to destroy a natural jewel like Kokilabari would be a terrible sacrifice of nature with which you cannot wish to be associated.” 

There are other sites that can be developed without committing irreversible environmental damage at Kokilabari, they added.

"Kokilabari Seed Farm is only nine square kilometres in area, about one hundredth of the size of Manas. Yet as many as 25 floricans have been seen there at one time," it said. 

The World Heritage Outlook Assessment had flagged the issue last year, saying there is a proposal to establish a large Agricultural College at the site of erstwhile Kokilabari Seed Farm and initial land survey and measurements were being carried out reportedly by the officials of Manas National Park in end January 2020 for preparation of a plan.

“Moreover, this will attract more settlers. The proposal itself may have already triggered rapidly expanding encroachment of property's land near Kokilabari,” the assessment said.

The species is found in very small numbers only in India and Cambodia. About a hundred of them are present in Nepal and the species is extinct in Bangladesh.

Out of the around 150 individuals in Assam, 75 are in Manas. Kokilabari Seed Farm, which is adjacent to Manas, has 25 of them.

New developments at Kokilabari Seed Farm which lies close to Manas National Park are deeply disturbing, said Nigel Collar and Mimi Kessler, co-chairs of BSG, in a letter to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. They added: 

We are aware that traditional farmers are being outbid for land by wealthy investors. This is of great concern, as local communities around Kokilabari have a fine tradition and knowledge of land management and can be trusted to carefully tend the parcels entrusted to them.

It has 200 other species too. The biodiversity of the site, as an economically viable food-producing enterprise, is as great as any we know of anywhere in the world, the experts wrote in the letter

Kokilabari is an excellent example of human-animal coexistence, said Namita Brahma who has been working on Bengal floricans in Manas. “If the conservation measures are carried out with proper scientific inputs, it is going to benefit both humans and animals in the future as well.”

For conservation of any species, habitat is the prime importance and Kokilabari is one such important habitat for not only Bengal florican but many more species, she added.

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