A major tiger reserve's bid to be rid of a UN 'danger' tag received a blow with militants abducting six volunteers of international conservation group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on Sunday evening.
The six, including three women, were engaged in an animal census operation in western Assam's Manas National Park.
A police spokesperson said the six WWF volunteers where abducted from the park's Ultapani area, some 200 km west of Guwahati and bordering Bhutan.
"They were accompanied by members of a local wildlife NGO, but the militants segregated the group and whisked them away at gunpoint," said a police spokesperson.
"We have launched a manhunt."
The abducted WWF volunteers are Saiyad Naushad Jaman, Pranjit Kumar Saikia, Tarali Goswami, Gautam Kishore Sharma, Srabana Goswami and Pallabi Chakraborty.
"A group of about 20 armed militants kidnapped them while they were carrying out tiger and elephant counting and monitoring exercises inside Manas National Park," said Kampa Borgoyary, deputy chief of the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
The BTC is an autonomous council and its members are elected representatives.
The identity of the abductors – all wore masks – was not immediately known, but officials suspect they belong to the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Ndfb). Apart from Ndfb, the Adivasi Cobra Force and the Birsa Commando Force are active in the area.
Many top leaders of the Ndfb including its chairman Ranjan Daimary are behind bars, but lesser leaders have been carrying out subversive activities.
Manas is also a tiger reserve and home to 22 of the 41 endangered wildlife species listed in India's Wildlife (Protection) Act, including the rare pygmy hog, golden langur, tiger, one-horned rhinoceros and wild Asiatic elephant. There are an estimated 70 tigers in the park, adjoining the foothills of Bhutan.
The UN had declared Manas a World Heritage Site in 1985, but demoted it to World Heritage Site in Danger in the early 1990s after tribal militants virtually took control of the park.