In August 2014, it has been nearly four months since our elephant calves were shifted into Manas National Park, Assam. There are five of them, Rani, Tora, Difloo, Jakhala, and Philip (who joined them a week or so later). The calves have all been radio collared and are being remotely monitored by the Wild Rescue team. The team reports that the calves have been fending for themselves as finding a family in the wild is proving to be a tough task.
Anjan Sangma, our field biologist, sent in the following account from Manas National Park on a recent incident where Philip and Tora had to be rescued from flood waters.
August 8, 2014: It has been pouring for two weeks now and tracking the calves is getting increasingly difficult. Of the five calves, Jakhala, Rani and Diphloo have been found to be moving about singly with signals coming in from different parts of Manas. But Tora and Philip have been moving about together and on the 19th of last month, they were sighted on an island in the Beki River by forest guards. The guards told us that they were on that island for three days.
By 23rd July it became evident that Philip and Tora were not there by choice but had been trapped by the rising waters. As the keepers kept watch, Philip took the plunge, literally! He clambered across the waters into the Sundari camp, south of the Beki river, and saved himself.
But Tora did not follow him. The river kept rising and the island was gradually going underwater.
We had to rescue Tora. The next day, we hired a boat and crossed over to island to check if she was physically fit to try and navigate the swollen river. To our relief, it turned out that she was physically absolutely fine, but just not brave enough to risk the river.
We tried for the next two days to get across the river but the currents were too dangerous. On the 26th, a rescue team for formed – Assam Forest Department, IFAW-WTI Wild Rescue team, and volunteers from local villages. The waters all around the island were surveyed and the area with slowest current was selected.
We guided Tora to the area and tied a rope around her body. The rescue team then coaxed her into the water and using rope to support and guide her, slowly got her to cross the river.
We kept Philip and Tora with us that night to watch over them. The next morning, we changed their radio-collars to facilitate longer monitoring and then sent them off into the wild again.
There was a wild herd nearby and this raised our hopes. Could this be the historic moment when Philip and Tora find a new family? But no... not this time. An elephant from the wild herd drove them away. Philip and Tora were not deterred. They followed the herd back into the forest; leaving us with fingers crossed hoping for the best.
As part of the IFAW-WTI Supplemental Accident Insurance Scheme, ex-gratia support of $2000 was provided to the family of Appu in Wayanad, Kerala. Appu was a mahout (elephant caretaker) with the Kerala Forest Department and had been killed while on duty by a captive elephant on the evening of February 13th 2014. Appu had been working in Muthunga, Wayanad with the Kerala Forest Department since May 1999 and had been shifted to the elephant squad in 2001. He is survived by his wife and three children.
The Wildlife Warden of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary remarked that with the multiple conservation challenges faced in the field, it is crucial to keep up the morale of the frontline forest staff. To this end, timely support provided to the families of forest guards in the time of their greatest distress by the IFAW-WTI supplemental accident insurance scheme under the Guardians of the Wild programme goes a long way to provide some small relief from the anguish of losing a loved one. Through this scheme, over 20,000 forest field staff across the country has been covered again death/permanent disability while on duty.
The Guardians of the Wild programme has also trained over 12,000 forest staff in more than 130 Protected Areas in over 19 states of India.
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Himachal Pradesh Police, assisted by IFAW-WTI team, seized nine otter skins from a trader in the first week of June 2014 in the town of Baddi in Himachal Pradesh. One accused, Shivram, was arrested. It was later revealed that his father and brother had been arrested earlier trying to sell wildlife articles in Siliguri, a town in West Bengal close to international borders with Nepal and a gateway to northeast Indian states that further lead on to other neighbouring countries.
Shivram’s father had been arrested in July 2013 in Siliguri with 70 kgs of pangolin scales, along with six accomplices from Manipur, Nagaland, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu indicating a country-wide nexus, and one from Nepal. Last month, his brother was arrested from Siliguri along with leopard skins, bones and otter skins. The operation to nab Shivram began with information collected by the WCCB on the accused trying to sell wildlife parts. The IFAW-WTI team was roped in to assist in the operation.
Led by the WCCB, the operation was strategized along with SIU team members to nab the culprit red-handed with the items. The operation was a complex one as Shivram was wary and kept changing locations within three adjoining Indian states. Despite this, the authorities diligently followed the leads and carefully set the trap with the arrest taking place on June 7th evening. Shivram has been booked under the Indian Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and remanded to police custody.
The skins belonged to Asian small-clawed otters (Aonyx cineria), a species that is listed under Schedule I granting it the highest level of protection under Indian law. If convicted, Shivram stands to serve up to seven years in prison.