In yet another major breakthrough for the Kerala Forest Department, three seasoned elephant poachers from Tamil Nadu and a middle man was arrested from the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border on October 15, 2015. The middle man Babu alias Chettiar and his father Jose were habitual offenders and had been associated with ivory trade for decades. When questioned, Babu confessed supplying about 200 kgs of ivory to Trivandrum based ivory trader - Brite Aji -- who was arrested earlier. Babu and his father went into hiding soon after Brite Aji was arrested. With their arrests, the Kerala Forest Department is hoping to get more information about elephant poaching and ivory trade in South India. These arrests came after the Kerala Forest Department, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Delhi Police seized 487 kgs of ivory in an undercover operation in Delhi on October 10, 2015. This haul was the result of a carefully planned ‘Operation Shikar’ in which one Umesh Aggrawal was arrested on October 2. Suspected to be the kingpin of the illegal ivory trade India, Aggarwal was the main buyer of ivory and maker of various artefacts. During the entire operation, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and its international partner International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) provided technical and field support to the investigating agencies. With so many arrests, the Kerala Forest Department have broken the back of elephant poaching in southern India. However, more arrests are not being ruled out in what can be considered as the biggest operation launched by the Kerala Forest Department against elephant poaching in the state.
The Bandipur National Park is situated at the confluence of Western and Eastern Ghats in Karnataka in Southern India, serving as a central link in the seasonal migration of Elephants from Mudumalai National Park and Satyamangalam Forest Division in the east and south east to Nagarahole National Park and Wynad Sanctuary in the west and North West. The Park is a significant component of the 5500 sq.km ‘Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve’ which is one of the largest conservation areas in India. A large population of elephants is found here along with seven large ungulate species and three large predatory carnivores – tigers, leopards and dholes.
For the first time, Bandipur Tiger Reserve will have a dedicated mobile unit manned by trained veterinarian and caretaker to attend to wildlife emergencies reported from the region. The main objective of the MVS unit is to return every displaced animal to the wild while following the IUCN guidelines on translocation and placement of confiscated animals.
he 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. The major methods of operation of the MVS unit in a project area are:
1. Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation
2. Human-Wildlife conflict mitigation
3. Immunization of livestock around protected areas
4. Captive elephant care
5. Disease investigation, surveillance and control
A. Wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and conflict mitigation
The MVS team was called to several cases of leopard and tiger attacks where cattle had been attacked and killed. Many cases were reported in the Hediyala and Omkara range and in one case, a tiger was seen attacking a cow. A large mob surrounded a lantana thicket in which the tiger was hiding and after an individual threw a stone at the tiger, the tiger rushed out and attacked a man, causing severe injuries to his rear end and thighs. The mob became violent and chased the tiger back into the forest. The MVS team assisted in coordinating the arrival of police to handle the mob situation and helped with the placement of camera traps in the area.
Three cases of leopard bites on cattle were reported in the Kundkere range. All the animals were treated and are in good health.
In the last week of November, the MVS unit was called in to attend to a case in which a tiger had killed a man and carried his body into the forest to eat. A massive operation was launched in which the MVS veterinarian assisted the Forest Department in an attempt to capture the animal. Members of the MVS team assisted significantly in the control of the mob. In one case, the mob was dispersed as the MVS Veterinarian had treated several animals in the village from which the miscreants were. Upon recognizing the vet, members of the mob stopped the situation from escalating and helped disperse the rest of the crowd. Unfortunately on the final day of the operation, the tiger was killed with a shot to the head after it attacked a forest guard. A post- mortem was conducted the following day which confirmed the tiger was indeed the same one that killed the man.
B. Disease investigation
A few more Foot and Mouth Disease cases were reported in the Hediyala Range for which treatment was administered to the cattle affected. It is of note that these cases occurred in the same range in which the tiger was killing cattle and people and further study is required to conclude a positive link between the two issues.
In the Nagerhole Forest, a tiger was found in a severely debilitated condition by a patrol. The tiger was unable to move and was tranquilized and transported to the Mysore Zoo. The MVS Veterinarian assisted the Zoo Veterinarians in conducting a postmortem. The PM revealed several issues with the tiger which included lung flukes, intestinal parasites, pericarditis and pleuritis along with hemorrhagic lesions in the lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys and intestines.
The postmortem of the tiger killed in Hediyala too showed several lesions on the liver and intestines indicative of parasitism. Additionally, samples were collected and sent for analysis to detect rabies and the presence of Canine Distemper, a disease carried and spread by feral dogs.
C. Captive elephant care
The MVS Veterinarian in coordination with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) carried out a second detailed investigation in response to the initial report sent. A committee was formed by the AWBI under instruction from a Supreme Court Panel to investigate the elephants health and well-being. One elephant was deemed severely unwell and was given treatment. Unfortunately, during the time the MVS veterinarian was attending the tiger incident in Hediyala, the elephant fell over and died. An external veterinarian tried to attend to the ailing elephant but was not allowed to administer any treatment by the owner and mahouts. Following the death of the animal, the PCCF, Karnataka gave orders to seize the surviving animals which were sent to the Doddaharave Camp for rehabilitation and care. The MVS Veterinarian will continue to offer treatment to the elephants on an on call basis.
Following the Dussehra celebrations, one elephant, 'Chaitra', delivered a premature calf after being transported back to Bandipur. The MVS veterinarian has checked the calf and is currently observing the calf in case any health issues arise.
D. Awareness and training programs
The MVS team has visited and treated several animals in peripheral villages around Bandipur and Nagerhole. Awareness has been raised and panchayat members have been recruited in an attempt to assist mob control should it arise during a conflict situation.
Following the Hediyala tiger incident, it was determined that the Forest Department staff were not trained and capable to handle basic first aid. The MVS Veterinarian will conduct a short first aid course in coordination with St. Johns Ambulance First Aid Training program to ensure every member of the Bandipur FD Staff is sufficiently qualified to administer first aid in an emergency situation
E. Plan for next month
The MVS Team will continue to attend to wild animal and livestock cases in and around the Bandipur Tiger Reserve and carry out awareness campaigns in areas of high human-animal conflict.
Amur falcons migrate in large numbers from Mongolia to Southern Africa for the winter. This is the longest regular over water migration recorded for any bird of prey. During this long journey, they stop over in parts of northeast India and Bangladesh to rest during the months of October in November. The congregation of the Amur falcons at the Doyang Reservoir in Wokha, Nagaland is believed to be the single largest congregation of these migrants recorded in India. Another roosting site for these birds is in Umrangso in the Dima Hasao District in Assam.
While there were occasional reports of the falcons being hunted in the Dima Hasao District as a whole, there were reports of more than a 100 birds being hunted in a day, in Umrangso. Later it was revealed that the number of birds being killed could run into as many as a thousand birds a day.
The Blue Hills Society, an NGO alerted the Wildlife Trust of India to this fact and it was decided to take action to stop this killing.However, stopping this killing would not have been possible without the support of the entire community.
This change was not an easy one to bring about. Meetings were held at various levels to understand how to best bring about this change, from meetings with local leaders to various governmental departments. Efforts were made to reach out to different communities. Support was garnered further from the village heads, Self Help Groups, village development committees, churches and school groups. The teams formed patrolling squads after interacting with the local youth. A resolution was also passed under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 to ban the hunting of these amazing birds.
Regular patrolling by the volunteers along with Forest Department officials resulted in the killing being minimized drastically from a high scale to almost zero mortality scenarios. The people In Dima Hasao now recognise the Amur falcon as the Pride of Umrangso.
It was to celebrate this achievement and to reinforce the ban on the killing of Amur falcons that WTI along with the Blue Hills Society coordinated the Amur Falcon Festival in Dima Hasao.
The event was a great success with a variety of programs conducted over a couple of days. Shri Davender Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary, Govt Of Assam was the cheif guest of the event. Girls from Dimasa welcomed the guests with a traditional dance followed by an ethic dance from Karbi. The dances were followed by inagural speeches. A discussion was also held among the invited guests with emphasis on the importance of conserving Amur Falcons and how they can bring in revenue through eco tourism.
Food stalls also displayed the traditional food of the region adding to the festivities. The Indian Army was also an active participant in the celebrations with their pipers giving a magnificent 45 minute display.
The participants of the Fest were invited to lunch close to the Amur Falcon roosting site followed by a bird watching session. The children present also had an informative and interactive session with experts from the Wildlife Trust of India and the Blue Hills Society.
Various activties with the theme of Amur Falcon Conservation were also held with school children participating in a talent show and a drawing competition. Bike rallies and a concert with local bands were also a part of the two day celebration.
Local people who are actively involved in the conservation of Amur Falcons were also felicitated during the festivities. One of the most popular acts through it all, however, was a speech by a little Karbi girl that told the story of how Baby Amur Falcon did not want to leave Umrangso as it was the most beautiful place in the world with the warmest welcome. He reluctantly agreed to fly to South Africa after Mamma and Papa Amur Falcon promised that they would visit again next year.
The people of Umrangso are already preparing to welcome their winged vistors again next year.