• Field of the Awardees
DISCOVERING MIGHTY MANAS UNSHACKLED
by   Prasadranjan Ray

It was 9 AM on the 29th November, 2009. We were having a frugal breakfast at the Doimari Elephant camp and discussing the situation with the Elephant Patrol members who were largely surrendered Bodomilitants.We were told that there were about 780 elephants in the Reserve and a large herd of 70 had passed close to the camp that morning. We had seen some signs of the herd but had not seen any. A young man Ganesh Bodo replied almost presciently that coming close to elephants was not always desirable. As we were preparing to leave the camp to proceed towards Kokilabari, someone pointed out that one of the jeeps was unable to reverse. Hurried repairs took
place and we finally moved down the narrow forest btrack. Now elephant signs were all around and even sounds breaking branches could be heard. Suddenly, a lone makna made its appearance, screamed and charged the first vehicle. Our gunman fired a shot and this stopped the makna initially. But then it reappeared and made its intentions clear by trumpeting again. The gunman tried to fire his rifle again but the gun jammed. There was no option but to reverse at a breakneck speed. We had heard horror stories of its devastation and also heard reports that it w. We withdrew very rapidly. We went back several kilometers to regroup and discuss. We were informed that a makna elephant (perhaps the same one) has been terrorizing the fringe villages for quite some time and had killed an old woman recently. We spoke to Kokilabari Camp and Bhuiyanpara Range Office by RT and waited. After sometime, an escort vehicle came and reported that the wat was clearand we could proceed towards Kokilabari. This was the high point of the tour which had started two days back.

Manas was beckoning us for a long as limping back to normalcy. We did not know quite what to believe. We decided to find out for ourselves what was happening. However, this gave us ample time to mull over what we had known of Manas.

Manas was earlier the hunting preserves of the Gauripur Raj and the Maharaja of Coochbehar, though it became a Reserved Forest in 1907. Planter and wildlifer EP Gee surveyed this area and described its pristine beauty. He is believed to have rediscovered two small but significant endemic species – the Hispid Hare and the Pygmy Hog. The Golden Langur is, of course, named after Gee, though it was earlier reported by Shebbeare. In 1974, Belinda Wright and Stephen Breeden spent a dozen days here in what has been described as “a delirium of delight”. Breeden stated “in Manas, I think I can feel something of the vibrance, abundance and exotic variety you would expect at one of the world’s major biological crossroads”. Much later, ValmikThaparobserved : “The beauty of the place silences me. It is another Noah’s Ark, with rhinos, elephants, wild buffaloes, gaur, sambar, chital, swamp deer, barking deer, hog deer, hundreds of greater pied hornbills, florican, the endemic pygmy hog, hispid hare and golden langur, plus clouded leopards and golden cats.” The key factors were the Manas River as an “outstanding example of geological processes and biological evolution”; “the superlative natural features of exceptional natural beauty” in the reserve; and provision of “critical and viable habitat” for a large number of endangered species. However, a severe storm was brewing with the decades, what had been described as “paradise on earth” was held hostage by gun-toting militants. Things were believed to be returning to normalcy after the Accord. But was it really so?