Securing a future for the Asian elephant and its continued survival in the wild is a major challenge faced by wildlife conservationists. It is not only the biological rate of extinction that is a cause for concern, but the combined effect of attrition of living spaces and human-elephant encounters on the ground that needs to be immediately addressed.
Over the years, humans have made steady inroads into the elephants’ natural habitat through agriculture and settlements. With their habitats now fragmented, degraded and compressed, these mega-herbivores spill into human settlements thereby setting the stage for a highly volatile combat.
One such situation has been building up in the some villages in Jharkhand that are on the fringes of forest areas. In Reladih village, the farmers had constructed wells to help them in irrigating their fields. Most of these wells have since been abandoned and are not being used by the village community. These unused wells lie open without even a wall around them and in most cases hidden from view. These pose a threat to wild elephant herds in the area, especially for the younger calves which tend to fall into the wells.
Till date, three such wells have been secured by building up the well wall to a height of about 3 feet. With the monsoons having moved into southern India, it is necessary that we secure as many wells as possible.
Philip Dev, Rani, Tora, Jakhlabanda, and Diffloo… five little elephant calves now in the second phase of rehabilitation back to the wild. They were recently moved out of the security of their home at the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) into a new world in Manas National Park, Assam. Manas regained its place as a World Heritage Site in 2011 when UNESCO voted to remove the ‘In Danger’ tag. Years of work put in by various organisations and individuals had brought this to pass. IFAW-WTI’s initiatives to this end included rehabilitation of orphaned wildlife, empowering local communities, combating illegal trade in wildlife articles, and training and equipping frontline forest guards. These elephant calves are part of one such initiative, ‘The IFAW-WTI Elephant Reintegration Programme’. We would like to introduce these young elephants to you:
Philip Dev was barely a month old when he was rescued from a ravine in Ouguri Range of Karbi Anglong, Assam in 2011 as a newborn - wounded and weak. He had been in intensive care on arrival to CWRC. In the beginning, Philip’s time was occupied by round-the-clock care from the caretakers. He had regular wound dressings, treatments, and two hourly milk feeds; besides being tucked into bed in the nursery every night - a far cry from the Philip of today! Philip today spends most of his day exploring the forests with Rani, Tora, Jakhlabanda, and Diffloo.
Until about a year ago, Philip had a distinctive Mohawk hairdo that made him instantly recognizable. Today he has lost much of his baby hair and until recently, his excitement at the sight of his milk bottle and the rush to get to it first made him look just like an unruly child in the playground. Now completely weaned, Philip has a healthy diet of leaves and grasses that he forages for in the Panbari Reserve Forest on his daily walks with the herd and keepers.
Rani was rescued from a mud pit in Deepor Beel Wildlife Sanctuary when she was just a month old, thin and stressed from her ordeal. Rani was initially stabilized in Assam State Zoo by Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury and Dr. Anjan Talukdar along with Dr. M. L. Smith, Forest Veterinary Officer after two failed attempts at reintegration with her natal herd. After spending six days in the Assam State Zoo, the forest authorities decided to give her a chance to go back to the wild by placing her with the other orphaned wild elephant calves at CWRC. Raju Kutum was the keeper who initially took care of Rani when she was first brought to CWRC. Rani was housed in the indoor large mammal nursery for about a month and a half and Raju stayed by her side constantly, even at night. Very often, Rani was observed to reach out with her trunk at night and touch Raju as if to reassure herself that she was not alone. Once she felt Raju was near her, she would peacefully go back to sleep. After 2-3 months she was transferred to an outdoor nursery, but it took about 3 months for Rani to make friends with the other calves there.
When they are about 6 months old, the calves are fed every day with multigrain balls, jaggery, and salt, besides multivitamins and mineral supplements. All five of the calves had been weaned before the shift to Manas National Park. Now four years old, Rani’s move to Manas may just give the keepers a little respite as she had taken to levelling the power fence separating the kitchen area from the rest of the nursery! It was a daily chore for her and she would flatten the fence with gusto, while the keepers used to sigh in resignation and reach for their toolkits.
Tora was found abandoned in a tea garden irrigation trench when she was about 2-3 months old. The villagers told the rescuers that an elephant herd had come crop raiding and was chased away by the villagers. Three-month-old Tora had fallen into a trench while trying to keep up with the fleeing herd. Her mother tried very hard to extricate her but did not succeed and eventually left with the herd and Tora was brought to CWRC by the Assam Forest Department.
Though Tora was not found to be too stressed on arrival, she was dehydrated. This was taken care of by the vets and the keepers, especially Dilip Das who was Tora’s first caregiver. Tora used to cry a lot in her first few days at CWRC, as she had trouble getting used to the bottle feeds. This is common to all the new calves coming to the Center. But once they get comfortable with the bottle, a delay of even half an hour would result in a tantrum. The keepers had to take special care of Tora when she was young as she was prone to bouts of diarrhoea. During those times, the keepers would hold off on her milk feeds and give her more of rehydration fluids (which she very naturally and very vocally took offence to.) Now a four-year-old, Tora loves having the other calves around her and will get upset if they are out of her sight.
Jakhalabanda is the oldest of the calves. She is six years old now. Three years ago she was found alone near the town Jakhlabanda. She was injured and very weak and when approached for treatment she fled inside the forest and could not be located for next three days. After three days she was found in a very weak and dehydrated condition by locals, who restrained her and informed the team at CWRC. Dr. Abhijit Bhawal, IFAW WTI veterinarian led the rescue team and transported her to CWRC. She had lacerated wound on the right foreleg probably due to tripping over rocks. She was also injured when she charged people trying to capture her. She had severe parasitic load which was treated successfully by Dr. Bhawal. The keepers had the least interaction with Jakhala as she was always self sufficient. During her days at CWRC, she grew to one of the most beautiful elephants at the facility. Unlike other new calves, Jakhala was initially not aggressive to humans, but subsequently, once she got over the trauma, her true nature surfaced and she has now turned into what she was always meant to be – a wild elephant.
Jakhala is now six years old and as leader of the herd, is very caring toward new calves in CWRC. She hardly comes to any of the keepers now. Not only does she walk far away from them, she also calls the other calves away. She even caused the CWRC team untold anxiety once when she did not return from the forest after her day’s walk. She returned late that night. As a result of her night out, the CWRC team decided to suspend forest walks until the elephants could be radiocollared.
Two-year old Diffloo had fallen into a pond in a tea garden in a place named Diffloo in Assam. He had spent the whole day there before being rescued. Two-year-old Diffloo was strong and wild when rescued and in a very healthy condition. He was kept separate for 15 days (quarantine period) before being introduced to the other members of the existing herd of calves. Gradually, he was introduced to the other calves in the fenced area. Diffloo was never bottle fed by the keepers, so he is the least imprinted. If the need arose, he was offered milk laced with medications in a bucket. He readily accepted the concentrate mixture offered to the other calves and his foraging habit kept him fully occupied all through the day at CWRC.
These five calves are now in Manas National Park. They have been radiocollared and are being remotely monitored. Reports from the field tell us that they are doing well in their new home. We thank you for all the support you have given us through the calves’ stay at CWRC and hope you will continue to support WTI’s conservations initiatives.
Rakesh was a 52 year old daily-wager working with the Forest Department in Corbett Tiger Reserve in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand. In October last year, he was part of a two-member team on routine patrol duty in the Kalagarh range of the forest. When he did not return home till late night, the range officer sent out a search party to locate the team. After a couple of hours, the search party came across the team. Rakesh and his colleague, Dev, had been attacked by a tiger and Rakesh had been badly mauled. The rescue team quickly took Rakesh to the nearest medical facility which was a small hospital in Kalagarh. After initial treatment, the doctors there recommended that he should be shifted to another hospital in Kashipur (about 2 hours away) for better treatment.
Seeing the extent of Rakesh’s injuries, the doctors at Kashipur suggested moving him to a larger and better equipped facility in Haldwani for treatment after stabilization. This was a 75 kilometer journey by road. At Haldwani, the doctors tried their utmost to save him, but Rakesh’s system was unable to cope and he succumbed to his injuries on the night of 20th October.
Rakesh is survived by his aged mother, wife and two young children. As is often the case, he had been the sole breadwinner and losing him had torn a gaping hole in the fabric of the family. Under WTI’s initiative to provide support to the frontline forest guards in case of accidents while on duty, Rakesh’s family was assisted with a sum of $2000 to give them some relief in their time of distress. While the loss of a dear one can in no way be compensated, the financial relief did help the family to a great extent and the gesture was much appreciated by the family and the state forest department.