With 38.7 percent of the total park area in Royal Manas National Park delineated as a multiple-use zone to meet the resource needs of its resident communities, the local people are an integral part of the protected landscape. The people who live in the protected areas are the most marginalized farmers that are highly dependent on natural resources for subsistence income.
The socioeconomic survey conducted in 2006 indicates that majority of the park administered communities depend on agriculture and livestock farming, and have very limited sources for cash income. Thus, agriculture and livestock intensification were recommended.
The human-wildlife conflict is very common in the settlements adjoining the parks and forests areas. Given the government’s commitment to maintain 60 percent of forest cover for all times on one side, and the fast growing population and expansion of settlements on the other, the conflict is likely to continue across generations.
In the context of such complex issues, the assessment of problems on regular basis would be helpful for planning future management actions.
With the transition of governance system from Monarchy to Constitutional Democracy, the local people are empowered to make decisions on the resource allocations and management. As such, it is important to consult local people and incorporate the issues proposed by them. For this reason, the household interview is conducted to capture the general understanding of the people on the conservation related issues and assess their perception over access to natural resources.
The socioeconomic survey was conducted from 14 February to 12 April 2014 covering the 31 villages within the park’s administrative boundary. The main objectives of the survey were to update socioeconomic information to form basis for planning third management plan from July 2015 to June 2020. The questionnaire survey covered 663 households of permanent residents and 514 households of other residents who are temporarily based in the locality to provide different services to the communities.
Five surveyors, two technical staff and three interns, were involved throughout the length of the survey. The current survey recorded 1,183 households from 31 villages while it was reported 1,026 households from 34 villages in 2006. This shows the increase in number of households by significant numbers. The total population recorded is 8,936, which shows a significant decrease compared to previous record of 10,646. Out of the total population, 5,331 people reside within multiple-use zone and 3,605 in buffer zone.
The overall living standard of the people, in terms of conditions of their house, connectivity of facilities such as safe drinking water, road and electricity, is found good but they lack proper sanitation, mostly due to poor toilet facilities.
About 62 percent of the park residents solely depend on agriculture for their household income with overall per capita landholding of 4.65 acres. The crop depredation is most common form of human-wildlife conflict across all the villages. Maize is found to be most vulnerable of crops and wild pig predation is very common. Guarding and use of scarecrows are most common interventions used to reduce crop depredation by wild animals.
Only 12 percent of the respondents indicated livestock farming as source of income.
About 34 percent of the total respondents indicated self-sufficiency in agricultural products for domestic consumption while 66 percent of the respondents suffer from shortage of agricultural products. 79 percent of the respondents buy rice from the markets besides other essentials, like cooking oil, salt and so on. The food shortage varies from six months to one month based on the time they buy rice from the market after the harvest of paddy.
The low income people own local breed cattle that are less productive than the high breed. The challenges to rear livestock include loss to wild predators, lack of fodder, limited grazing land and labor shortage. The service centers such as health, education and RNR services are uniformly distributed across all the communities.
The construction of new highway from Tingtibi to Panbang and Panbang to Nanglam has increased access to these facilities that are outside the park’s administrative jurisdiction. Only few villages remain yet to be connected by farm roads and electricity.
In order to improve the living standard of the local communities, the general recommendation of the activities include off farm opportunities, drinking water supply, supply of alternative roofing materials, crop insurance scheme, electric fencing, community forest and bamboo management, and up scaling ecotourism activities.
There are no clear directives and policies in place to determine the expansion of settlements and other infrastructures within the multiple- use zones. As the population increases over the years, so will the gradual expansion of settlements, and thus undermining the conservation objectives in the long run.
The number of tourists on the Indian side of the Park is increasing each year. However, the State of Conservation Report of Manas Wildlife Sanctuary states unregulated tourism fosters degradation in the region, and that the benefits have to be better shared among the local communities.
However, the tourism in Bhutan seems to be more stable and sustainable, and there are already several ecotourism initiatives being implemented in the Royal Manas National Park.
The latest Transboundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) report states that an Indo-Bhutan tourism package covering TraMCA area has been seen very crucial in benefiting the local communities in TraMCA who, in turn, will help protect the biodiversity.
To start with, it has been urged that Royal Manas National Park and Manas National Park to start the pilot initiative.
National parks give an opportunity to the visitors to relax their body, refresh their mind and enjoy the grandeur of nature ensuring biodiversity. On one hand, national parks worldwide protect and conserve the valuable and endangered natural resources, while on the other hand, they make a great contribution to the local and national economy by developing tourism within their territorial limits and work towards the benefit of local communities.
Eco-Development (ED) model was originally advanced by the United Nations Environment Protection (UNEP) involving participatory management of resources in NPs and became very much successful in Indian national parks, like Kanha in the context of ecotourism management.
Though Kaziranga is more advertised and easily accessible, the study reveals that ecotourism potential in Manas is much more because of the support of its geotourism resources. Proper promotional measure including dissemination of information on its Outstanding Universal Values (OUVs) in tourism market is very much essential to utilize such opportunities. It is to be noted that at present tourism infrastructure of Manas is at juvenile stage, while Kaziranga in this context has already reached the stage of maturity.
Implementation of a community oriented responsible tourism planning for this national park may be a strategic initiative to address poaching and habitat destruction in future. This is vital since the park is situated at a dormant seat of ethno-political conflict, which may arise again.
Making a linkage between the process conservation and educational motives of geotourism combined with wildlife tourism, a balance between tourist needs, ecological requirement and expectations of local community could be achieved.
The impact of climate change, which are already visible in the form of erratic weather patterns, occurrence of natural disasters, like flood and landslides, and drying up of water sources would further impact the initiative.
More threats or issues identified include habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, loss and decline of wildlife populations, human- wildlife conflicts, and mechanisms to convert political willingness into actions.