On a hot April morning in 2013, the residents of Bada Changru village in the Indian state of Jharkhand woke up to the loud trumpeting of an elephant. It’s not unusual for villagers to hear one; as they live in an area that is home to hundreds of these majestic animals.
The trumpeting sounded different that day though. It was desperate enough for the villagers to take notice and jolt them out of their usual morning routines. Concern and a partial curiosity drove them to follow the direction of the sounds. Meanwhile, the trumpeting only got louder.
It seemed to be coming from an abandoned well that most of the village had forgotten about. It is not uncommon in this region for old, dried up wells to be left uncovered and unguarded by walls. To the villagers’ horror, a elephant calf had fallen into an abandoned well upside down and was struggling hard to stand. They could see the calf was injured as he tried to get on to his feet.
Despite the eternal conflict with these creatures, a struggle in which neither side wins, the peoples’ unease at the calf’s plight was evident. They called officials of the State Forest Department immediately who in turn hurried to the spot. The Forest Department called in the mechanized earth diggers that dug out the earth from around the well to help the animal escape. With great effort from the locals and the Forest Department, the distressed animal soon emerged out of the well and scampered towards the forest and his mother, who had been driven to some distance to enable the rescue. This calf was lucky to survive, but several others are not so fortunate.
In the past couple of years, five calves have fallen into these abandoned wells that are scattered across the mosaic of villages. Out of these, only three survived while the rest died a painful and lonely death. Their deaths were mourned by the entire village who were struggling to come up with a solution to avoid mortalities of these highly revered animals.
In India, the elephant is thought of as an incarnation of the Lord Ganesha and a death of an elephant is considered inauspicious. The villagers believe that elephant deaths would bring misfortune to their villages and all efforts must be made to save them. Year after year, elephants were falling into abandoned and unguarded wells and something needed to be done to stop this. Amit Kumar Lal of Jungle Boy Trust, a Jharkhand based non-profit organisation has been working in these villages on mitigating the Human Elephant Conflict with WTI.
Struggling to find a solution, Lal approached Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) through a Rapid Action Project to identify wells, cover them or build a boundary wall around them. These villages are surrounded by farms that have several such open wells meant to irrigate the agricultural land. During the dry spells, the elephant herds usually move closer to the farm lands in search of water and food. Without any fencing, these wells turn into death traps for unsuspecting elephants especially calves.
Moreover, a majority of these wells are not manned or regularly visited by the locals, reducing the chances of detection of any elephant in need of rescue. The mortalities weren’t confined to only elephants, several other wild animals like wild boar, snakes etc. have fallen prey to these killer wells.
To address this urgent need, WTI agreed to assist the Jungle Boy Trust and undertook a pilot project to identify these abandoned wells. On the basis of a preliminary survey and discussions with the concerned Forest Department officials, we zeroed down upon eight wells that were frequently used by the elephants. Judging by the signs of elephant activity around these wells, we realized that it was crucial that these wells be covered or a wall be built around them immediately.
Till date, these eight conflict prone wells have been covered or walled and no incidents of elephants falling inside the wells have been recorded from the region. Local feel they are only protecting their God. There is no worse sight than to look at a dead calf in a well. Therefore, it becomes important that we try and save as many as we can and let these marvellous beings roam the forests for centuries to come. And by doing so, even our gods will be pleased.
Wildlife Trust of India has pioneered wildlife rehabilitation and wildlife health monitoring as tools for conservation in India. Together with the International Fund for Animal Welfare it has successfully built the first two super-specialty centers for wildlife rehabilitation in India: the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) in Assam and Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC) in Arunachal Pradesh. Apart from this, WTI has been also operating six Mobile Veterinary Services (MVSs) that have attended to more than 3800 individual animals, vaccinated over 12,000 cattle, attended and provided health support to around 1,000 captive elephants located around the protected areas. As a result, protocols for the rehabilitation of eight species of endangered wildlife have been formulated and field-tested, and around 300 vets given hands-on exposure to wildlife veterinary science and rehabilitation.
WTI provided wildlife health and rescue support in India vides three arms namely:
The main goal of a MVS unit is “to rescue wild animals in the face of conflicts and natural disasters and rehabilitate back to the wild where they serve the greatest conservation benefit”
The salient features of an MVS unit are:
The activities of MVS-EA and MVS-Arunachal unit can be broadly categorised under:
The summary of activities done in the previous quarter by all the six MVS units is tabulated as follows:
Update for Jan-March 2015
Rescue and rehabilitation of displaced wildlife due to man-made causes
A total of 101 cases of displaced wildlife were attended to by the six MVS unit across India. Mammals contributed to 43% of the cases, birds 39.09% and reptiles only 17.82%. The majority of the cases belonged to adults (77%) and the rest to the young ones that need protracted care. The maximum number of cases were attended to by the MVS-Central Assam (MVS-CA) unit at Kaziranga (32.67%), followed by MVS-Eastern Assam (MVS-EA) (28.71%) and MVS-Western Assam (20.79%) (MVS-WA). Similipal MVS that was started in May 2014, attended to around 11% of the total number of cases. Out of the total number of cases attended by all six MVS units, around 48% of the animals were released after necessary treatment and care. 30.21% of the cases are still under care at the respective centers/MVS stations. Some of the species handled by the MVS units are shown in figure 1.
Emergency relief to wildlife displaced during natural disasters
Floods, cyclones, landslides and poisoning are some of the calamities that affect wildlife on a regular basis. Emergency relief to wildlife in distress during such disasters in the form treatment, stabilization and accommodation is one of the primary objectives of the MVS units. North Bank of river Brahmaputra is highly prone to flooding during the monsoons, displacing many wild animals. Fortunately, no natural disaster occurred at any of the project sites in the reporting quarter
Livestock immunization around fringe areas
Thousands of livestock live around the fringe areas of every National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in India. They pose a great threat to wild ungulates as they can be a major source of infectious diseases to them. The MVS units organize regular immunization camps for livestock in the villages to protect wildlife against diseases. The main objective of such camps is to prevent spread of diseases like anthrax, black quarter, hemorrhagic septicemia, blue tongue and foot and mouth disease in wild buffaloes, elephants, sambhar, cheetal and gaur. MVS-CA vaccinated 30 cattle and 15 goats in Ramterang and Sarkro village of Karbi Anglong in the month of February in association
Captive elephant care
All the MVS-unit veterinarians are regularly called for routine health check for all the forest department captive elephants either through camps and individual visits. Around 20-25 captive elephant cases are attended to by the MVS units annually. Routine health care includes checking vital parameters, screen stool samples for endo-parasites and blood samples for hematological parameters. Anthelmintic depending on the species and parasitic load is administered at the end of the health check in front of the veterinarians. Minor surgical interventions like wound dressing and suturing, pedicure and other abnormalities are also taken care of during the check-ups. A total of 17 captive elephants were attended to in the reporting quarter. As mentioned above, apart from routine deworming minor dressing and surgeries were done.
Disease investigation procedure
Investigating the cause of deaths and prevalence of diseases in wildlife is essential for prevention and control disease transmission. WTI has deployed trained MVS veterinarians who can attend to postmortems to determine the cause of death. Poisoning has been found to be the major cause of death of many species of wildlife.The animals under care also undergo, regular screening, for endo-parasitic load through fecal examination. Other forms of disease investigation operations include sero-prevelance, parasite load, hematology, histopathology and microbial investigation. The MVS units conducted a total of 19 disease investigation procedures, majority of which were necropsy. Out of these 3 cases were of animals that had died in the wild, while the rest were of those that died under care.
Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is vibrant during the Kite Flying Festival “Makar Sakranti”. This harvest festival has been celebrated with lots of frolic since a very long time with the practice of flying kites and bursting crackers. The fun activities have taken a huge toil on the lives of our feathered friends as they get entangled, mutilated or entrapped in the grip of “Chinese manjha”. Many birds, both local and migratory fall prey to this menace of kite flying.
WTI along with a local NGO named Raksha initiated a RAP to raise awareness among the citizens of Jaipur with a theme called ““Save our Feathered Friends”. The idea was generated that mere rescues will not address the trend of bird mortality until and unless followed up by making the local resident aware of the plight of the birds. Keeping this in mind WTI mobilized the local NGO to initiate awareness campaigns targeting a large group of people at the ground level followed by multi dimensional awareness approaches. The approaches are mentioned in the followed:
A) Educational awareness in schools and colleges in Jaipur:
Primary target was educational institutions (schools and colleges) where video screenings, presentations and live talk shows related to a bird safe Sakranti festival were conducted. The team formed teams called “Special action forces” comprising of selected students. We motivated students to sign a pledge saying they will not fly kites with glass-coated manjha. School/College managements appreciated our efforts and stood shoulder to shoulder with us for other events also. Schools and Colleges were educated and a huge target of over 14000 students was accomplished.
B) Street Plays
The special action forces formed during the awareness initiatives in schools performed many “nukkad-nataks” (street plays) at strategic locations in Jaipur like Gaurav Tower, Jaipur’s largest Temple-Govind Dev ji Temple, Birla Mandir, City Pulse, Albert Hall, Trident Mall. The signature campaign followed which attracted local residents, shop owners, etc in various parts of the city who strongly participated.
C) Distribution of outreach material
IEC material in the form of posters, brochures and pamphlets were designed and printed for public circulation. Posters were handed over to religious leaders, school/college principals and shop owners to be displayed at their respective places of work. Pamphlets in Hindi and English were distributed in front of educational institutions, places of worship, corporate office buildings, bus/auto stands and colonies of high density kite-flying areas. A poster depicting the ill effects of kite flying on avifauna and urging general public to observe the time regulations for flying kites and stop use of glass-coated manjha for flying kites was the main tool used.
D) Peace Rally
After approaching various religious leaders to participate in this noble cause, we sent them an invitation letter for the Peace Rally at JLN Marg from St. Xavier•s School to C-scheme, Ajmeri Gate and finally to Albert Hall with students, working professionals and local residents at strategic locations in the city. Father John Ravi, representative of Christian Community in Jaipur, flagged the Peace Rally and Prayed for it•s success. This Peace Rally was initiated by representative of the Jain Community and prominent social worker Mr. Raj Kumar Ajmera. Our rally in the walled city area was amidst heavy traffic and the public watched and appreciated the effort and joined the rally. Thus, this event became a Jaipur City Residents initiative. Students of St. Xavier•s School, St Xavier•s College, University of Rajasthan, The IIS University Maharaja College, Maharani College and SMS School also participated in this rally.
E) Human Chain Formation
A Human Chain comprising of our filed team, newly formed Special Action Forces and local residents was formed all around Albert Hall where there is maximum presence of birds. A “Patang Utsav” was being promoted nearby and our Human Chain formed a barricade around it to protest silently that we would not allow kite flying in this heavy bird density zone. The chain started from St. Xavier’s School and became longer till it reached Albert Hall. The local Media covered the entire event and many local residents too joined the chain happily to protest against Kite Flying. It was overwhelming to see people from different backgrounds joining hands to stop this menace irrespective of caste or creed.
F) Silent Candle March
A Candle march with college students at Albert Hall was organized which was covered by the local media. Many students participated in the event and spread the message of a safe Sakranti. Children came forward and observed a moment of complete silence in respect of the dead birds. Parents were touched by this move and came forward to help in this Silent March. The candles were placed dramatically to form a Heart, showing the oneness of the people of Jaipur with our cause.
G) Demonstration with PlacardsDemonstrations near high density kite flying zone were organized by students of “Special Action Forces”. Students of various schools took placards and demonstrated at Main roads, Albert Hall and Temples. Around 100 students participated in this event. Some of the placards used for the same are shown here.
H) Mock Funeral Rally
Float of a dummy dead bird entangled in glass-coated manjha was prepared and used for the mock funeral rally. This mock procession symbolized the extent of suffering that the birds go through as a result of entertainment (kite flying). This method of depicting the plight of our birds was introduced for the very first time in Jaipur. The procession was led by a Student of Ebenezer Academy and followed by other students from Trimurthi Circle to Albert Hall. The event was fully covered by the media and was well appreciated.
The awareness initiative was a precursor to rescue and veterinary camp held by Raksha along with IFAW-WTI, where 377 birds (out of which 78 were migratorybirds) were treated for injuries in a month around Makar Sankranti.
YouTube Video Link