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 Animals  India Project #21710

Help Save Elephants in India

by Wildlife Trust of India
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Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Help Save Elephants in India
Picture 1
Picture 1

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 Titans
On 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 Dart
Over 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.

Picture 2
Picture 2
Picture 3
Picture 3
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Articles seized were measured before cataloguing
Articles seized were measured before cataloguing

Since 2010, the Enforcement & Law project team of Wildlife Trust of India directly supported the authorities in conducting over 40 seizures, resulting in the arrest of about 170 suspects, all over India. This includes Operation- Shikar, which resulted in one of the largest operations in the country’s trade-control history: seizure of 487 kgs of ivory in Delhi, and subsequent arrests of 73 suspects (for poaching, ivory-trafficking, carving and trade).

2 October, 2015: In a carefully planned operation, a kingpin of the ivory trade was apprehended by an enforcement team comprising the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Kerala forest officials during an early morning operation at Delhi. The suspect was involved in the ivory trade.

The suspect was taken to Kerala where several cases were registered against him.

On 11th October, 2015 a covert operation was conducted by a group of officers from Kerala Forest Department, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and Delhi Police which led to the seizure of 487 kg of ivory in Delhi. The much needed technicaland legal assistance was provided to the Kerala State Forest Department during the arrest and seizer by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

 

Due to numerable factors and fundamental differences between the wildlife offences and other forms of crime, the conviction rate in the wildlife offence is much lesser than other forms of crime.

Therefore, to address the complexity of the Wildlife offence, WTI followed up the arrest and seizer of the large ivory consignment by providing legal assistance to the Kerala forest Department.WTI has also inducted a designated legal expert who will provide assistance to the investigating officers in the elephant poaching and ivory cases which are registered in Periyar Tiger Reserve of Kerala Forest Department, Kerala. 

The primary job of the legal expert will be to provide legal assistance and advice in matters related to court cases and filing of documents in reference with the ivory trade and elephant poaching registered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The assistance will ensure speedy trial, convictions, proper documentation and filing, it will also ensure to boost the confidence of the forest officials.

WTI has replicated the legal assistance model in Periyar Tiger Reserve after successfully  addressing the complexity of the legal assistance in Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserve since 2013.

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Suspected poachers
Suspected poachers

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. 

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Delicately carved ivory articles seized
Delicately carved ivory articles seized

A tip off from an ex elephant poacher in July and former forest watcher, led to an investigation by the Kerala Forest Department (KFD) in association with WTI’s Enforcement Team. He claimed that a gang of elephant poachers had camped out in Kerala’s verdant forests and had killed more than 20 elephants in a period of just 10 months.

Special software allowed the KFD and WTI’s Enforcement Team to track connections between suspected poachers through their call records. After many tedious hours of work, enough information had been collected to make the first arrests.

Over 30 people were arrested with respect to ivory poaching with over 40 elephants believed to have been killed in the past year alone.

In October, after more months of intelligence gathering, the team had their biggest breakthrough yet .In a carefully planned operation, a kingpin of the ivory trade was apprehended by a team comprising the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) and Kerala forest officials with assistance from WTI staff during an early morning operation in Delhi.

The trader arrested was a well to do businessman dealing in art and collectibles was operating his business from a three storied house in a posh locality of Delhi. A fully equipped carving unit was operational at the basement of his house where the authorities suspected the artisans turned ivory into high valued ivory articles to be exported. The suspect confessed his involvement in the illegal trade of ivory from the 90s. He used his company ‘Art of India’ which dealt in various artefacts from India to other countries and mixed ivory and ivory articles along with sandstone and resin statues to avoid detection. He also openly manufactured and displayed articles which looked and felt like ivory in various art exhibitions to attract customers for genuine ivory products. His involvement in preparation of fake ownership certificates for ivory goods is also under investigation. From the initial assessment and findings it is clear that he was purchasing ivory from most of the elephant bearing areas across India.

Less than ten days later, another covert operation led to the seizure of 487kg of ivory. The entire examination of goods lasted for 12 hours as each item was examined and packed. The team also managed to recover some documents and pen drives which will be investigated.

The trader’s highly paid lawyers are working to get him released on bail and WTI’s team will also be providing the best possible legal assistance to the Kerala Forest Department in order to ensure pro-conservation judgments in this case.

Entire tusks are often on sale
Entire tusks are often on sale
Articles seized were measured before cataloguing
Articles seized were measured before cataloguing
Raw ivory was also seized
Raw ivory was also seized

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Organization Information

Wildlife Trust of India

Location: Noida, Uttar Pradesh - India
Website:
Project Leader:
Sahil Choksi
Noida, Uttar Pradesh India
$37,607 raised of $50,000 goal
 
619 donations
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