Successful wild rhino re-collaring exercise in Assam under IRV2020
2011 sees vulnerable* one horned rhino roaming securely in Manas wildernessThe Manas National Park in Assam witnessed the first ever wild to wild translocation of rhinos in India when two male rhinos were released in its confines in April 2008. The rhinos were fitted with radio collars that ensure better monitoring and help plan safety measures for the rhinos. Also they help in developing a scientific understanding ensuring their better management by the park authorities.
After effective functioning for more than two years, the radio collars of these two pachyderms ceased to function in mid- 2011. A decision to change the radio collars and fit new collars was taken by the competent government authority in order to continue studying the rhinos and better understand their behaviour, particularly in view of the fact that new female rhinos were being planned to be translocated to the park from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam. Even though the conditions were very tough and challenging, all out efforts were made to undertake the operation between 22 – 24 April 2011.
Tracing the rhinosIn accordance with the decision, efforts to identify the location of the necessary rhinos by the Manas team were initiated on 20 April. Then, a special team from Guwahati sent by the Translocation Core Committee, along with the Manas team went out looking for them in the likely areas of Bhuyapara and Basbari at 5.00AM on 23 April. On the same day, around 1:00 PM the team got hold of fresh track-marks, giving an approximate idea of their location. Though the location information was passed to the nearest camp it yielded no results and the operation had to be called off for the day.
It was decided that one team from Rupahi camp in Bhuyapara and two teams from Kuribeel and Uchila in Basbari would start the search at the tentative location the following day at 5.30AM. WWF-India’s Amit Sharma personally contacted all village heads on the fringes of the tentatively identified area. These efforts yielded results and information was received about one of the two rhinos being close to south boundary which provided leads for the next day’s search.
There were hiccups as the search area experienced a thunderstorm and heavy downpour on the night of 22 April, uprooting trees along the forest roads. Hence, the team from Basbari could not start as planned. The team from Bhuyapara was led by Jamir Ali, an experienced field staff from WWF and included eight field staff from Bhuyapara range. Their all out efforts resulted in Rhino1 being located by the team in the Pahumara nala by 10 o clock in the morning. But sensing the approach of the team on elephants it fled away. Fortunately while following the tracks of the fleeing rhino the team could sight Rhino2 in a small pit in the Fort area.
Meanwhile, the team waiting at Basbari moved in fast negotiating the muddy tracks through the fringe villages and reached the nearest motor-able point. The park authorities led by the Field Director, Mr. A. Swargowary made arrangements for elephants and guards to be provided to this team to rapidly move to the location of this rhino.
The team started trekking through the Katajhar area as suggested by Jamir Ali with the necessary gear and equipments, guided by the forest staff and the village guides who know the forest pretty well. After a trek of about 45 minutes, the team reached the rhino making sure it was undisturbed. The veterinarians led by Dr. Kushal Sarma decided do carry forth the tranquilising process exercise. A few human ‘locators’ were positioned on tree tops at vital locations to observe the rhino as a small team approached them on two elephants. At about 2:30 PM, the first fired dart hit its target from a distance of about 15 metres but the animal ran for about 12 minutes getting quite close to a river and hence providing tense moments to the team members. Fortunately the rhino got immobilized and quickly the team members approached it, made necessary observation on the health conditions and fitted the replacement radio collar around its neck in about 25 min after which the animal was administered the revival. In about 2 minutes, it stood and slowly walked away into the adjoining woodlands. This sight brought smiles on the face of those involved in the operation, as they could see the rhino they had brought in from Pobitora in April 2008 in good health.
It was overall a very challenging and exciting exercise for the entire team. Much of the team had lost hope of success after encountering the slush and fully grown vegetation in the park apart from the overnight thunderstorms. The dedicated efforts made by the Bhuyapara team to locate the rhinos were highly commendable and the entire team, in particular the experienced veterinarians who volunteered their time, deserve accolades for this happy ending.
Amit is Co-ordinator, Rhino Conservation, WWF-India and Deputy Chief Operation Officer, Translocation Core Committee, Assam Monitoring under Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020
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* Talukdar, B.K., Emslie, R., Bist, S.S., Choudhury, A., Ellis, S., Bonal, B.S., Malakar, M.C., Talukdar, B.N. & Barua, M. 2008. Rhinoceros unicornis. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2.<www.iucnredlist.org>.