Chimmony WLS, April 6, 2015: Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) implemented a Rapid Action Project (RAP) wherein field kits were handed over to the frontline forest staff of Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. Each kit contains a bag pack, raincoat, cap, sleeping bag and an LED torch that will help the forest staff patrol the forests more efficiently. These kit bags were handed over by the WTI team to Shri Pius, Assistant Wildlife Warden, Chimmony WLS.
Among those present for the kit distribution programme included Shri. Viju Varghese, Wildlife Warden, Peechi-Vazhani and Chimmony WL Sanctuaries, Shri Pius and WTI team. Shri Varghese in his inaugural speech thanked WTI and said, “Providing basic gear to the forest staff is crucial for the long term survival of the forests and its inhabitants. We are grateful to WTI for providing this basic equipment that will help the staff in carrying out their duties more efficiently.” WTI’s Sabu Jahas, Manager, WTI, briefed the Forest Department about WTI’s initiatives in wildlife conservation across the country and spoke about the importance of equipping the forest staff to ensure better protection of the forests and its inhabitants.
Chimmony Sanctuary falls in Mukundapuram Taluk of Thrissur District of Kerala. The sanctuary was established in 1984 with an area of about 85.067 sq. km and is part of the Anamudi Elephant Reserve (Reserve No.8) in the state. The sanctuary harbors several endangered and endemic species. More than 50% of the sanctuary is under high conservation value zones. “Considering the increasing threats of poaching and illegal logging, this diverse ecological hotspot needs to be well protected. This initiative by WTI will help the frontline staff in monitoring these forests more proficiently. It will not only make life easier for the frontline forest staff that work in one of the most difficult circumstances but also motivate them to continue their work efficiently,” said Radhika Bhagat, Head, Wild Aid, WTI.
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.