The kite festival of Uttarayan (Makar Sankranti) is regarded as one of the biggest festivals celebrated in western part of India. It marks the transition of the sun into the zodiacal sign of Makara (Capricorn) on its celestial path. The day is also believed to mark the arrival of spring in India. The tradition of kite flying is believed to have started amongst the kings and royalties, however over the years, it became a popular sport and began to reach the common mass. Kite flying during Uttarayan is now celebrated as a regional event.
Kites flown these days are known to use a strong special string which is made by applying glass powder on it (known as Manjha) to provide it a cutting edge. This practice of using an abrasive thread for kite fighting has posed a great threat to species including birds, fruit-bats, macaques and even humans. The impact on birds however is much larger. Birds when in flight, fail to notice the fine glass-coated thread, get entangled and injured even causing fractures, mutilation of wings and nerve injuries. At times, the minute glass pieces used in manjha get embedded in their bodies adding to the misery and eventual death. Additionally, these strings unlike their cotton counterpart do not lose its strength even after getting wet and hence stays for a long time in the environment, creating potential threat for the birds both local and migratory. With more kites competing for space with birds, the number of injuries has risen over the years.
Wildlife Trust of India took the initiative to address the issue. The project team went to every corner of Jaipur with the message of a safe Makar Sakranti and initiated mass campaign by conducting various events in lieu with the theme. Our primary target was educational institutions (schools and colleges) where video screenings, presentations and live talk shows related to a bird safe Sakranti festival were conducted. We formed teams called “special action forces• comprising of selected students who helped us during our citywide awareness campaigns. We asked students to sign a pledge saying they will not fly kites with glass-coated manjha. School/College managements appreciated our efforts and stood shoulder to shoulder with us for other events also. Schools and Colleges were educated and a huge target of over 14000 students (in 30 schools) was accomplished. Project team along with their volunteers performed many nukkad-nataks at strategic locations, Jaipurs largest Temple-Govind Dev ji Temple, Birla Mandir, City Pulse, Albert Hall, Trident Mall) followed by signature campaigns wherever they visited. Our signature campaigns (Albert Hall, Walled City, Trident Mall, Govind Dev ji Temple, Birla Mandir, Galta Temple) attracted local residents, shop owners, etc in various areas of the city. Information Education and Communication (IEC) material in form of posters, brochures and pamphlets was circulated in the public. A candle light march was organized at Albert Hall and peace rally at Mansarover which witnessed huge participation from school kids and their parent alike. The team also approached religious leader to spread message of conserving the birds which were telecasted in regional TV shows.The awareness campaign reached a direct audience of 2 lakh people with many more reached through media coverage.
Awareness Programme in different regions of Jaipur was a great success in creating awareness about kite string injuries in birds amongst the people of Jaipur with people of all ages and social backgrounds participating. Following the awareness programme the locals found to be more involved by rescuing and taking the injured birds to veterinary relief camps. As a result approx 1000 birds (Black kites, pigeons, cormorants, spotted dove, bee eaters, egrets, barn owls etc) were treated during the veterinary relief camps. Another major outcome, that came out was District Administrator put forward a timeline for flying kites and bans the Chinese manjha from all the shops. The District Administrator put forward a timeline for flying kites and banned the Chinese manjha from all the shops. Time regulations were implemented to avoid flying kites between 7 and 9 am and between 5 and 7 pm which is when raptor activity is deemed highest. With help of enforcement done by team members, it was made ensure that no shopkeeper sells the Chinese manjha in the area. In this way, glass coated strings were completely banned in the area.
The awareness campaign initiated, seeks to continue and sensitize even higher target audience.
The second most populous tribe, the Adi’s inhabits six districts of Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India. Adi meaning “hill man” or “man of hill” are said to be migrated from East and Southeast Asia. Early outsiders referred to them as Abor, meaning ‘uncontrolled or savage’, due to the tribe’s reputation as fierce warriors. It is this reputation and the inhospitable terrain in which they live, have ensured the survival of Adi culture for centuries. A major collective tribe of about 25 major tribes, living in the Himalayan hills, the Adis have been traditionally hunting wild animals en masse during their festivals, especially during Dorung in November, Unying or Aran in March and Dishang in January.
Forests in Arunachal Pradesh and its neighbouring state Assam are considered to be one of India’s biodiversity hotspots which boasts of rich diversity of species, many of which are threatened, endangered or close to extinction in wild. However, unabated traditional hunting practices by Adi’s have threatened the existence of these species which have seen a considerable decline over the years. Disturbed by the loss of wildlife at such rapid pace, the Adi Baane Kebang (ABK), the Traditional Apex, Appellate & Supreme Council of the Adis, partnered with Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to put a stop to these hunting rituals.
The team in consultation with the “Kebang” (meaning the village council) conducted a series of awareness programs. Through mass level programs the project is able to reach out to 80 villages covering 10 blocks in East Siang district. Though there we initial hesitation by the village gaon burahs (Village heads), ABK holding the judiciary power over deciding disputes and social issues was able to pass a resolution on banning the ritual hunt. Under the theme of “Preservation, Protection and Conservation of Biodiversity” and constant efforts of sensitization the project was able to get signed resolution of about 200 members. More Gaon burrahs from different villages also expressed their views supporting the resolution to ban all hunting. Based on the awareness camps and consultative workshops the ABK came out with a “consensus report” which endorsed the Adi’s commitment on the following: Complete ban on use, selling, store, transportation, and possession of air gun & its pellets in East Siang District, Complete ban on hunting/fishing by using gun, 22 rifles, blasting, generator and poison and Protection of D’Ering Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary with more dynamism from land encroachers and illegal hunters. The Forest Department also participated in these events and encouraged the tribals to surrender their locally made guns, traps and weaponry used for hunting. The project team also got cooperation from East Siang Deputy Commissioner, where he issued additional executive order urging immediate surrender of Air Guns and empower the Gaon Burahs and local bodies to deal with the wildlife cases.
The awareness campaign witnessed positive response and reaction from the local tribes. With the targeted intervention the tribals were keen to abolish the age old practices and move towards a more sustainable and eco friendly model of tourism. A marked change is being witnessed in the community to protect their own wildlife heritage.
The projects aim to reach out to more Adi settlements and reduce the mass hunting to nil. Constant engagement with the local tribe is the key for this. Please join us in supporting Adi Tribes to protect their wildlife.
The MVS clinics function under the concept that animals estranged from their natural habitat, either due to human interference or by accident, must be given every chance to return to their natural habitat. Veterinarians not only attend to such wildlife emergencies but also have alleviate stress and improve welfare aspects of the displaced wildlife. This importance of a veterinarian in rescue, conservation and mitigation of conflicts has given rise to the need for establishment of Mobile veterinary service (MVS) units.
Following is the report on the activities done by the MVS unit in the month of July 2016:
A. Wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and conflict mitigation
Several birds were brought in to the MVS unit for care and treatment, which included a young white breasted kingfisher, four mynahs, two Koel (a male and a female with vehicle injuries) and a common hawk cuckoo (Figure 1). The mynahs are still under care while one Koel and the cuckoo were released. The kingfisher and one Koel died due to their injuries. Apart from these the team also handled one Indian pond terrapin which was being sold in the local market for pets (figure 2). The team confiscated the terrapin and released in the nearby lake.
B. Disease investigation
The MVS team assisted in the post mortem investigation of three elephants that were found dead in Nagerhole Tiger Reserve. An examination of the carcasses which were severely putrefied indicated death by natural causes. Samples were collected and sent to the Crime Branch in Mysore for further forensic analysis. One elephant of the three was found with a missing tusk. After an extensive search and investigation, the missing tusk was traced to a village nearby and the person responsible was arrested.
Two leopards were found dead due to poisoning in the periphery of Bandipur. One of the leopards was a rare black variant (melanistic form) (figure 3). The MVS Unit was called in along with the Forest Department to ensure a thorough investigation. The investigation resulted in the arrest of a villager from Hanchipura Village who confessed to the killings by intentional poisoning.
The MVS Unit was called out on a tiger postmortem towards the end of July where an 8-month old tiger cub was found dead due to starvation (figure 4). An analysis of previous camera trap data indicated that she was one of three cubs and may have become separated from the mother and her siblings.
C. Captive animal care
Captive elephants: The MVS Veterinarian attended a 10-day course on captive elephant medicine and health care. Following the rescue of the circus elephants being held in Srirangapatna, the MOEF decided to form a committee on elephant welfare for separate districts of the state of Karnataka. The MVS Veterinarian has now been placed on the committee governing the welfare of the elephants present in the Chamarajanagar district, including Bandipur and Nagarhole.
D. Awareness and outreach
The Karnataka Forest Department along with the Wildlife Trust of India conducted an event on account of it being International Tiger Day. Several children from a number of schools attended the event which was presided over by the Conservator of Forests, Bandipur, Mr. Hiralal, and featured the presence of the Cooperative Minister, Mr. Mahadeva Prasad, as a chief guest. A few presentations were conducted by the Forest Department, along with WTI Staff and other allied NGOs. All the students invited come from fringe villages with very high human animal conflict. After the brief presentation and discussion, the school children assisted the forest department staff in a brief cleaning drive of the Bandipur campus, shown a documentary on tigers and participated in a drawing competition through the Animal Action Education campaign of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). Towards the end of the program they were taken to a Safari to the National Park and given copies of ‘Pranigalu’ a book on wildlife in Kannada.
E. Plan for next month
The team will continue to carry out normal activity, attending to wildlife emergencies and conducting disease investigations. We have targeted several schools in the periphery where we will be holding short talks and presentations, as well as be handing over educational tools to teachers to raise awareness in children from conflict torn villages.