Animal Census Takers Kidnapped in India (Updated)

The BBC reports:

Armed gunmen have kidnapped six officials of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) from Manas national park in north-eastern India, officials say.

The abductions from the game reserve came within a few hours of a decision by Bodo tribal groups to renew their campaign for a separate state.

Officials say the kidnappings were carried out by 20 armed men on Sunday.

The six - including three women - were carrying out an elephant and tiger census when they were abducted.

*Update: 7 February, 1:00 p.m. EST: WWF sends the following release:

WWF-India and government agencies working towards release of abducted volunteers

New Delhi: Six young volunteers, including three women, engaged with WWF-India carrying out field monitoring for the All India Tiger Estimation Project in Chirang Forest Division of Western Assam have gone missing, presumably abducted, from an area near Ultapani on the afternoon of Sunday 06 February 2011. WWF-India is working closely with the government authorities at different levels to trace the missing volunteers.

WWF India's Sr. Coordinator in Assam Dr. Anupam Sarmah is representing the organisation in the talks with the authorities. Other senior members of WWF- India are also present and are monitoring the situation.

The Bodoland Territorial Council and the state Government authorities are working to resolve this crisis. We have also been informed that the volunteers are safe.

The NGO community in Assam has appealed for the safe and immediate release of these volunteers. They have stated that "These volunteers are innocent students from our own native state and educational institutions.…..The NGOs hope that good sense will prevail and the volunteers will be immediately released unharmed in order to enable the civil society organisations and their workers to contribute towards nature conservation…… especially for the communities living in and around the forested areas."

WWF India thanks all partners and individuals who have expressed concern and offered support. We are putting in our best efforts to ensure the safe and early release of this team of enthusiastic and committed conservationists.