UNESCO World Heritage Site opportunity for Garo Hills Conservation Area
Major boost for conservation and environment protection
TURA: The Indian Government’s decision to nominate the Garo Hills Conservation Area, over 340 square km of rich ecological forests including two national parks and a wildlife sanctuary, for a UNESCO World Heritage Site selection is being seen as a major boost for conservation and protection of the environment at a time when large-scale deforestation and destruction of the fragile ecosystem is taking place in the region.
This is the first time in the history of conservation that Garo Hills has been put in a tentative list of the UNESCO for a possible selection as a world Heritage Site. This list is an inventory of properties which each state intends to consider for nomination.
To be nominated for a mixed site, it has to comprise of elements of both natural and cultural significance. In the North East there are, so far, only two World Heritage sites in the mixed site category- Kaziranga and Manas National Park in Assam.
The permanent delegation of the Indian government to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) nominated, in July this year, the Garo Hills Conservation Area for a place in the World Heritage site in the mixed-site category opening the doors for a major conservation movement of the selected site which lies in the West and South Garo Hills districts.
The core area of the Garo Hills Conservation Area includes three legally designated protected areas- Nokrek National Park and Biosphere (49.44 km), Balpakram National Park (220 km) and Siju Wildlife Sanctuary (5.18 km) and also the reserve forests of Tura Peak (4.19 km), Emangiri (8.29 km), Rewak (6.47 km) and Baghmara (43.9 km).
The total core area of the proposed nomination is 337.48 km.
It will also include the buffer zone comprising of the Baghmara Pitcher Plant Sanctuary (0.027 km), the Angratoli Reserve Forest (30.11 km) and several community owned forests that coincides with the boundary of the Garo Hills Elephant Reserve.
The state government, particularly the Forest and Environment department, now have a limited time frame fulfill all required UNESCO formalities and the next few months will be crucial in its efforts to ensure conservation is maintained and protected.
The Nokrek National Park, notified in 1986 and declared by the government of India in 1988, and which is part of the Garo Hills Conservation Area, was recognized under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) in 2009. It houses the National Citrus Gene Sanctuary demarcated for the in-situ conservation of Citrus Indica, recognised at the mother of all citrus fruits in the world.
The nomination for selection to a heritage site has come as a pleasant surprise for many.
In the submission for a heritage site list, it was made known that the nominated property (GHCA) has unique features that stand out as a fit case for inscription for its “Outstanding Universal Value” and compared it, at the national level, with the Western Ghats of India- a biodiversity hot spot.
The plus point for the Garo Hills Conservation area is that the entire Western Ghats are not protected by contiguous protected area network and have many private properties in between resulting in broken connectivity among the sub-clusters and thereby leaving them in isolation.
On the other hand, the core area (337.48 km) of the nominated GHCA receives its protection through the network of protected areas, such as the Nokrek National Park. It includes the nationally designated Garo Hills Elephant Reserve (3500 km).
The GHCA is home to a vast variety of endangered species of wild animals and holds one of the largest and most threatened populations of the Asian Elephant and other herbivores.
It was also in these forests of the conservation area that the first camera-trap record in India of the Small Toothed Palm Civet (Arctogalidn trivirgata) was obtained.
There is immense enthusiasm among environmentalists and ecologists that given its rich biodiversity and the threat of destruction, Garo Hills Conservation Area could soon become one of the few World Heritage Sites still brimming with a variety of species endangered or virtually wiped out in other parts of the world.