Similipal Tiger Reserve, September 23, 2016: Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), working in partnership with the Forests & Environment Department, Government of Odisha, has this morning commenced a three-day intensive training workshop on rescue and rehabilitation of displaced wildlife at Ramtirtha, Jashipur, near Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR).
This circle-level advanced training is a culmination of a series of workshops conducted since 2015 at various divisions of STR at the behest of the Regional Chief Conservator of Forests (RCCF) cum Field Director of STR, Mr Harish Kumar Bisht, IFS. The initial workshops were held at Baripada (core), as well as the Rairangpur, Karanjia and Balasore (wildlife) divisions with the objective of identifying and constituting circle-level teams of five Forest Department personnel in each division. These candidates having been identified, this advanced training will now focus on equipping, sensitising and further enhancing their ability to handle emergencies related to displaced wildlife.
The workshop was inaugurated by Mr Bisht (RCCF-cum-Field Director, STR), Dr JD Pati, IFS (Divisional Forest Officer, Rairangpur), Mr AK Biswal (Assistant Conservator of Forests, Baripada STR), Dr KK Mondal (Honorary Wildlife Warden), Major Das (a retired army officer) and representatives from WTI. “The vision of this training is to address wildlife emergencies promptly, effectively, safely and systematically”, Mr Bisht told the participants; “in times to come incidences of human-wildlife conflict are bound to rise, making such trainings invaluable.” Major Das compared the Forest Department’s frontline field staff with army soldiers, encouraging them to develop a similar outlook towards forest protection as a soldier has towards protecting the country.
The workshop will provide mainly hands-on training for the most part over the coming sessions, with some theoretical sessions on the foundations and protocols of wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, ethics and documentation. Today, Dr Khanin Changmai, Veterinary Surgeon with WTI’s Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) unit at STR, provided a demonstration and training on using immobilisation equipment, which included shooting practice for the trainees. Other practical sessions will include technical rope rescue training on land and water bodies, mock drills on emergencies involving elephants, leopards, bears and tigers, and human-snake conflict mitigation.
Ronga Reserve Forest, Assam, August 26, 2016: A wild ‘makhna’ (tusk-less male) elephant was chemically restrained and treated for an inflammation of its right foreleg on August 18. This marked the end of an operation spanning two weeks and involving multiple attempts by IFAW-WTI veterinarian Dr Jahan Ahmed, assisted by Dr Rinku Gohain and working with Assam Forest Department personnel, to sedate and treat this particular elephant.
The following is a first-hand account of the operation by Dr Ahmed:
A Clash of TitansOn the evening of August 3 our Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS - North Bank) received a report from the North Lakhimpur Forest Department that an injured makhna had been seen in the Bogoli beat under the Harmutty Range of Ronga Reserve Forest. We proceeded to the location the next morning but the elephant was in a densely forested area and as forest officials were unable to get a fix on its exact location, we could not intervene. Two days later we received news that the elephant had been located. Forest staff chased it to the Bogoli River where a forest guard and I were waiting atop a ‘kumki’ (a specially trained Forest Department elephant), ready to dart it and administer the required treatment.
We saw the makhna emerge onto the river bed. It was massive, about a foot-and-a-half taller than our kumki. It had a large swelling at its right shoulder joint and was dragging its foreleg. The moment it saw us though, it charged, ramming into our elephant from behind. Our mahout, a young chap, didn’t panic. He turned the kumki towards the wild elephant and met it head-on. As the elephants battled I tried desperately to get a clear shot and dart the makhna. I did get my chance but with the rapid movements of the two elephants – and of the rather frightened forest guard behind me – I missed.
Both elephants were still fighting in the ankle deep water. We had started out near the east bank but were now on the west bank of the river. The Range Officer Rubul Pathak, DFO B Vasanthan and ACF N Das were about 150 metres away, watching the scene unfold. The makhna was now running away and our kumki gave pursuit. It was getting dark and they were running into dense forest, so the forest guard and I decided to jump off.
The Last DartOver the next few days we tried in vain to locate the elephant. Then, on the afternoon of August 10, it was sighted in a small stream, moving towards the river. We reached the spot and a ranger fired a dart, but missed. The makhna was moving towards the forest again when we prepared and fired another dart. It struck the gluteal muscle but didn’t fall off. It had malfunctioned. Another opportunity lost, and it was already evening; we packed up for the day.
Dr Rinku Gohain joined me on August 12 having brought more darts from CWRC. Forest staff were constantly monitoring the makhna’s movements but it was deep within the Ronga Range Forest, making any sort of intervention impossible. Finally, on August 18 we learned that it had been spotted near the Harmutty Tea Estate. We prepared two darts and I and a forest guard approached the elephant atop a kumki. It was just about 250 metres inside the forest, but since it was lying down in a thicket we couldn’t get a clear shot. We decided that it would have to be chased toward the tea garden where we would lie in wait. Unfortunately, again, things didn’t go according to plan – the makhna ran the other way, deeper into the forest!
Dr Gohain had to leave at this point to attend to an abandoned elephant calf in Dejoo Tea Estate. The forest was too dense for us to proceed on elephant back, so a forest guard and I went in on foot. We saw the elephant taking a mud bath in a swampy area. I fired a dart and it struck near the tailbone. It fell off after about five minutes and we collected it to see if the sedative had been delivered properly. We followed the makhna for about 40 minutes; it was drowsy but not yet sedated, so we fired two top-up darts.
Ten minutes later its trunk was fully relaxed and we could safely approach it on the kumki. It was 9.5 feet tall and in good health apart from the huge swelling at its right shoulder, towards the antero lateral side. There was no external injury; the area had calcified and there was no pus. I administered long acting antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-histamines and multi-vitamins.
After about 20 minutes the elephant moved its hind limbs. I applied a topical spray on the dart injuries, and administered an injection to counteract the anaesthetic.
We came away from the area. The makhna was seen an hour later, fully recovered from the sedative. It was browsing on grass and creepers as it moved off into the dense forest.
Umrangso, Assam shot into limelight when several reports from the region confirmed hunting of Amur Falcons in large numbers for their meat. This became a serious cause of concern for WTI which had played a pivotal role in mobilising communities in Nagaland in their commitment of not hunting Amur falcons. The project immediately swung into action and was successful in bringing down the hunting of Amur falcons in Umrangso. An Amur Falcon Festival was held to promote the conservation of the species and also provide an opportunity for the local community to benefit from their annual migration, economically. Various cultural events were organised as part of the festival. Bird watching was arranged at roosting sites and discussions were made on Amur falcon and its importance with the school children. The fest strengthened the belief in people’s mind that the stopping of the hunting of the falcons and conserving the region’s wildlife is a cause to be celebrated and that theirs is success story to be told to the world.
WTI’s Amur Falcon conservation project in Wokha, Nagaland could not have its success (zero mortality of falcons in last three years), without the help of the local communities i.e. Lotha tribe. Villagers from the three villages Pangti, Asha and Sungro became the guardians of this migrant raptor.
On request of local villagers of Pangti (VCM) and to take our good work towards another level of conservation of Amur falcon, an interpretation centre cum guest house to cater the tourist inflow in the migrating months of Amur Falcon is being conceptualized. This land for which will be provided by the villagers in Pangti) will aim to provide vital information about the specie, the local history of the place and about the work carried out by the communities and organizations so far towards conserving the falcons. The guest house will cater to tourists, birder’s, researchers visiting Doyang. Both the interpretation centre and guest house will be run by the local VCM’s and the earning will be utilized for self sustaining this building and strengthening community support. This will integrate the conservation action with possibility of revenue generation for local tourism by developing niche tourism.
The construction work of a country boat for protecting Amur falcon roosting sites in Doyang reservoir, Nagaland is going on. The country boat will help to patrol the inaccessible areas of Doyang reservoir. The Amur Falcon protection squad will be able to patrol the roosting sites located around the reservoir with the help of country boat. Field gears like T-shirts, Caps and Torches have been provided to the members of Amur falcon protection squad for better patrolling and monitoring of the area.These activities will eventually help the patrolling team in monitoring the area and thereby help in protecting the amur falcons.
Doyang hydro-electric project reservoir in Wokha district, which hosts the raptors in tens of thousands and is believed to be the single largest aggregation of Amur falcons recorded in India. The field gears provided to the Amur falcon protection squads will aid them in their patrolling duties. We hope that these activities will ensure the sustained conservation of Amur falcons in Doyang Reservoir, Nagaland in the years to come.