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.
Philip Dev is now 28 months old and has crossed his 2nd year in the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) campus. He was rescued from a ravine in Ouguri Range as a newborn - wounded and weak, and 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 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 some of the older calves. When he is in back in the CWRC campus, he interacts with the younger calves. Philip, who was being mentored by the older calves in the past, can now be observed mentoring the calves younger to him!
Not the only male in the herd anymore!
The CWRC elephant group has had a new addition in July. For a long time Philip was the only male among the calves being rehabilitated. On the 26th of July, a male elephant calf rescued from Hojai was admitted to the centre, and is now slowly being introduced to the rest of the group. As the veterinarians and keepers observed the newcomer, they noted that though he was bullied and pushed around a little initially, it wasn’t long before Philip and the other elephants accepted him as a part of the herd.
Philip’s interaction with the other elephants at CWRC
Philip spends most of his day in the jungle with other elephants - Rani and Tora, accompanied by a keeper looking over them. Here they graze for all day returning to the CWRC campus in the evening. Philip, Rani and Tora have now outgrown the night nurseries and spend their nights in the outdoor elephant paddock. This area is surrounded by electric fencing to protect the calves and is enriched with branches and leaves of edible plants in different corners. The keepers have even started tying leafy branches onto trees to encourage the calves to forage and explore their surroundings - this is a big step for the three calves. The calves are now being weaned off human dependence as they have started spending more time in a natural habitat, with less human interaction. Here, they will not only learn from each other but also from their instincts.
It was observed that all the calves seem to be spending more time in anticipating their milk feeds and consequently spend less time foraging. To encourage them to forage more, the frequency of milk feeds has been reduced to twice a day. Additionally, the morning concentrate feed has also been stopped after which the calves are spending more of their time in the forest feeding on creepers. Besides this, they also have a concentrate feed of Bengal gram powder, broken wheat, rice, soya bean powder, molasses, salt and bananas. This supplemental food is is given in the evening when the calves are let into the fenced off paddock for the night. The preparation is fortified with multivitamins, mineral mixture and probiotics. A recent fecal examination showed that Philip had developed a worm load and hence he was dewormed and being monitored closely by the vets. The fibroid growth on Philip’s right leg is still there but is not affecting his gait. It has, therefore, been left undisturbed as per the vet’s advice.
As always, Philip gets excited and pushes the others around, especially when he spots the keepers bringing his milk bottle to him. The vet at CWRC suggests that this food anticipatory behavior may reduce once he is weaned off milk. Also, the presence of the other calves is helping to curb this behavior as they take up a lot of Philip’s attention.
The calves, especially Philip, at CWRC are adapting gradually to the forest. He is growing quickly and learning from his surroundings. As per the protocol, Philip will be moved to the release site for soft release next year along with the other grown up calves of the herd.
Two-year-old Philip Dev has lost much of his baby Mohawk hairdo, but none of his wide-eyed wonder at the world around him and remains as inquisitive as ever. Philip’s tusks have finally emerged and have grown to about 5-6 cm. The fibroid on the knee still remains, but is not affecting him in any way and the vets are keeping a close watch on it. Philip spends almost all of his time with the other elephants at the centre - Rani, Jaklabanda, Tora and Lakhimi - spend their days in the CWRC grounds, playing with each other, bathing in the playpond, feeding on grasses and multigrain supplements, and of course, jostling each other during their bottle feeds.
The monsoons have set in across northeast India and dark grey skies are the norm now. In preparation for this weather, the calves have been de-wormed and extra attention is being paid to their food intake and defecation cycles. Also, since Philip did have a case of toenail infection some months earlier, care is being taken so that the infection does not recur with all the dampness in the air.
The elephant calves’ nursery has a newly laid floor and walls freshly painted with odourless paint. The earlier floor had cracked and chipped causing small pools of water to accumulate. This made it difficult to keep the floor clean and dry. The calves were temporarily shifted to another area while the maintenance work was in progress. Once they were moved back into the cheerful renovated nursery, the calves heartily approved of the change, rushing around to explore every corner.
Last August, CWRC celebrated 10 years of functioning. Since inception, nearly 2000 animals have come to the centre and most of them just required temporary care before being released. But some of the animals were young orphans, and so began IFAW-WTI’s quest to hand raise and rehabilitate them back to the wild. A very large part of the credit for the many success stories goes to the keepers who selflessly look after the young ones, sometimes for years in the case of elephants and rhino calves, and then bid them goodbye and goodluck as they return to the forests, knowing that they may never see them again. This report is also an acknowledgement of their contribution to the rehabilitation programme and gratitude for their dedication.
Let’s start with Bhadreshwar Das. Bhadreshwar joined the centre during its early days and has watched it grow to its current stature. When the very badly injured newborn Philip was brought in to CWRC in 2011, he was looked after by Bhadeshwar. Philip was so weak and traumatized that he was not able to stand for three days. During this time, Bhadreshwar was with him round the clock - changing dressings on his wounds, persuading him to drink milk, and generally comforting him. Bhadreshwar was in charge of Philip for the crucial first six months of his life at CWRC and instrumental in bringing him back from the brink. He is also very good with handraising rhino calves.
Tarun Gogoi – the first animal keeper in CWRC. From darting to administering medicine, to feeding animals, to coming up with new ideas for enclosure enrichment – Tarun does it all. One of the more observant of the keepers, he is so attuned to animals in his care that he is able to predict their behaviour.
Prashanta Das – is also called Bhini Bhaiyya. Nursing injured animals is his forte. He is also observant and especially good with taking care of small birds. With his talent for carpentry, he loves to make small nest boxes and perches out of scrap wood lying around and that keeps the birds very happy. There was an incident that a vet recently related where she was sitting in the administration room of the centre labouring over some accounts that had to be submitted urgently, when Bhini Bhaiyya burst into the room calling out to her, “Madamji, jaldi chalo!” (Madame, come quickly). When she asked him what the matter was, he happily replied, “Rhino baby ghaas kha raha hai, pehli baar!” (The rhino baby is eating grass for the first time.) Not just Bhini Bhaiyya, all of the keepers watch over their young charges carefully and are so very proud when a milestone is crossed.
Hemanta Das - He is one of the youngest keepers. Very enthusiastic and always ready for action – a very desirable trait during flood season. In fact, during last year’s floods, Hemanta took care of a very aggressive rhino and managed to calm it.
Lakhiram Das – Though our resident snake expert, Lakhiram gave us all many anxious days three years ago when he got himself bitten by a poisonous common krait outside his home and ended up in Intensive Care. It took him weeks to recover, but he was back at work as soon as he could. Lakhiram is a man of monosyllabic responses and tough looks and one would scarcely imagine a softer side to him. But he has been seen crooning baby talk to the very young animals in his care when he thought no one was watching.
Raju Kutumb is a comparatively new keeper and has spent a significant amount of time on night duty in winter. He is a very compassionate man and a perfect nanny to the baby animals. Every night, when he would come to the centre, the first thing he would do is go on his rounds of all the animals’ night shelters making sure that there was enough water and fresh grass, the young animals were well-wrapped in their blankets, and heaters were in place wherever required. This job would take him the better part of an hour and has to repeated 3-4 times through the night, depending on circumstances. A painstaking task indeed, but never once has Raju been known to take shortcuts with it.
Hareshwar Das – Also one of the youngest keepers, Hareshwar has a particular liking for rhinos and will always volunteer to look after any rhino coming to the centre.
Last, but definitely not least, is Mahadeo – the driver of the Mobile Veterinary Service ambulance stationed at CWRC. He is one of the earliest members of the team and has witnessed and oftentimes participated in all kinds of rescue operations. Even though he is not involved in the day-to-day care of the animals, he still inquires about their well-being, especially the ones that he remembers as being in a bad shape when he brought it in.
The keepers are all emotionally very attached to the charges as well as the centre. During the recent 10 year celebrations, the keepers had been asked to share their experiences in CWRC. Bhini Bhaiyya brought out the feeding bottle and teats that had been used to feed the first elephant calf to ever have been handraised at the centre. He has been preserving all the bottles and teats and even remembers which animal was fed out of which bottle. Some of the keepers were highly tickled by the fact that they have cleaned up more after their charges than after their own children.
Philip, Rani, Jaklabanda, Tora, Lakhimi, and all the other animals at CWRC owe a large part of their wellbeing to these hardworking men. We thank them for their selfless service and we thank you, our donor, for helping IFAW-WTI sustain this wonderful initiative.
Philip Dev is now 21 months old now and is the elephantine equivalent of a toddler. As he grows older he is losing his signature Mohawk hairdo but his antics still have his caregivers in splits. His excitement at the sight of his milk bottle is as great as ever and he will swing his trunk, wave his head to and fro and even push Rani and Nunai out of the way, just like an unruly child in the playground. There is no centre maintenance activity that the keepers can apply themselves to without an interested Philip jostling his way into the centre of action and sticking his trunk in.
But, the elephant calf with the most personality is still Nunai – the youngest one of the trio. She goes almost hysterical with joy at the sight of water, be it in a pond, a paddling pool, the drinking trough, a bucket, or even a trickle out of faulty faucet! There was one incident recently that the vet told us about where the trio had reached the indoor nursery before the keeper, but since the door was latched they could go into their rooms. Nunai found the coiled hosepipe that is used to wash down the nursery every day. She followed the coils to the tap and somehow managed to turn it on. When the keeper arrived, she was happily waving the hose in the air with water gushing out over all three of them, and Rani and Philip looked distinctly unhappy at the unexpected drenching.
Philip now has 21 liters of milk in 6 feeds in 24 hours – 4 feeds during the day and 2 at night, each feed consisting of 3.5 liters of reconstituted formula milk powder. At sundown, Philip, Rani and Nunai are brought into the indoor nursery as it is too cold for them to be out in the open. They have small rooms where each one is separately housed but can reach out with their trunks and touch each other over the partitioning walls. The rooms have fresh grass and water placed so the calves can nibble through the evening and night. Philip and Nunai will lie down on their side and sleep, but Rani is taller and prefers to sleep standing up leaning against a wall or a sloping surface. In the wild, adult elephants sleep on their feet while the young ones will lie down in the middle of the herd where they are secure.
Philip recently developed a toenail infection that was painful for him, so the vets performed a minor procedure where he was anesthetized and his toenails cleaned and trimmed. His feet were bandaged for a few days after that. He is now perfectly well and the infected toenails have healed. Otherwise, the calves are doing well now and Philip is steadily putting on the weight he had lost during his illness. The fibrotic growth at his left front knee is disturbingly prominent even if harmless, and the vets are keeping a close eye on it and will take action if it starts to interfere with his gait.
Philip, Rani and Nunai have another 2 years or so at CWRC before they are moved to Manas National Park for the second phase. Seeing these young ones at play in the security of CWRC, it is daunting to think of them as adult independent elephants in the wilds of Manas, but that is what we eventually hope to achieve with your support – give these young ones the dignity and freedom of a wild elephant.
Philip is now a year and a half old and almost halfway through the first stage of rehabilitation – handraising. Cocooned in the care of the keepers and vets, he spends his days in the company of Rani and Nunai in the sprawling grounds of CWRC.
CWRC - the rescue center that for Philip knows as home is a joint venture of the Assam Forest Department and IFAW-WTI. It was established with the support of the Animal Welfare Division, Govt. of India and is one of the few rescue centres recognized by the Central Zoo Authority (CZA).
Celebrating its tenth year now, CWRC was established in 2002 with the primary aim to stabilize displaced and orphaned wild animals, provide medical treatment if necessary, and release them back in the wild. The outreach of CWRC also dovetails into various wildlife health support activities including disease investigation, captive elephant care and immunization. Spread over 14.5 acres, CWRC has essential veterinary infrastructure including an examination room, a theatre for surgery and an evolving disease investigation laboratory. It also has spacious holding shelters to accommodate birds, reptiles, ungulates, primates, and big cats as well as nurseries for elephants and rhinos and small animals. The centre and its satellite units have handled more than 3000 cases since its inception in 2002.
Philip, Rani, and Nunai spend a part of their day in the mega-herbivore outdoor nursery. This is a 2500 sq feet open grassy area that they play in and explore every day. This is also where they receive their daily milk feeds, multigrain supplements, fruits, fodder etc. During the day, they are also then taken to other parts of the campus which have enough wild vegetation for them to nibble on and also a small play pond to splash around in.
All the calves are examined daily by the resident vets and occasionally, vets from the Guwahati College of Veterinary Sciences are called in to examine them, should the need arise as it did a few months ago when Philip had lost some weight. The vets determined that a parasitic infestation was the cause and he was dewormed ahead of schedule. Since then his stools have been examined regularly in the lab and have shown a negative parasitic load. He is now feeding well and is being given extra milk feeds to help him regain lost weight.
Another task that Philip’s caregivers have is to peer inside his mouth every day! His tusks are still in the process of erupting and the keeper has to make sure they are doing so normally. While earlier there was just an area of hardness in the gums, now one can see the glint of white below the tissues.
Ever the prankster, Philip retains his love for untying bootlaces but rarely has the opportunity these days as everyone wears gumboots because of the rains. Recently, another of our older resident elephant calves – Tora – tried to muscle her way in during Rani and Nunai’s milk feed when Philip, having already finished his feed, had wandered off. Tora started to push Rani and Nunai aside to get at the bottle and that was when Philip came charging back to push Tora away. This is the first time Philip has displayed protective instincts and is a good sign to see that the calves are watching out for each other just as they would as part of a wild herd.
Philip, Rani and Nunai have never been taken beyond the centre limits as they are too young to expose to the dangers of the jungle. That time will come in another year’s time when they are weaned and their daily walks with the keeper has them venturing into the surrounding Panbari Reserve Forest for their first taste of the wild.
During all the stages of rehab, human contact is kept as minimal as possible to discourage imprinting. It is only the privileged few caregivers who actually get close to the calves. The rare visitor to the centre watches the calves from a distance and always from behind a screen so as to be unseen. All of these precautions are necessary to ensure a successful rehabilitation back in the wild and we have to thank you giving us the privilege of being able to care for these endearing young ones while they grow.
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