Helping wildlife keep a safe distance from humans

Posted on
02 November 2011

Stories of WWF-India field teams supporting rescue of wildlife

Among the many hats that WWF-India staffs don in the field include one of helping save stranded and strayed wild animals. As awareness of the nation’s wildlife laws spreads, more people realise it is illegal to keep wild animals captive at home or to kill the ones that stray out of their habitats. Many a time local people look up to the field offices of WWF-India to help protect such wildlife. Also, in cases where wildlife, - particularly the big cats and other large mammals, enter human habitats it is difficult for the Forest Department and Government agencies alone to handle the crowds that gather to watch the proceedings. There have been many instances where the gathered crowds have become the target of the frightened, cornered animal, as well as the animal being the target of people’s wrath, resulting in their mortality. NGOs are usually not considered part of the Government machinery by the local communities and can help calm tensions.

The Indian Army as a saviour of Sikkim’s wildlife

Our armed forces do more than just guard our borders. There have been innumerable instances where they have helped rescue and rehabilitate wild animals, sometimes with active support of WWF-India. One recent instance where this happened was in East Sikkim. Asiatic Black bears have increasingly become one of the most conflict prone animals in Sikkim. While some argue that the increase in population of these animals is the reason, human infringement into animal territories is another suspected factor. Intrusion by black bears inside army installations for food and shelter has been a recurring problem in East Sikkim. On 28 September, 2011 a black bear was reported to have entered the food storage facility inside one such outpost. The bear reportedly was attracted by the stored grains, sugar and other food articles and ventured into the structure. When WWF – India received news of this early next morning from the Army Colonel, the Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department (FEWMD) was contacted for assistance. Accordingly, a team comprising FEWMD veterinary doctors, Range Officer Mr. Dhananjay Pradhan and forest guards reached the location. After initial difficulties, all exits from the storage house were blocked and the animal was tranquilized and put inside a cage with caution, under medical supervision.

Says Ms. Priya Shrestha, Landscape Coordinator, Khangchendzonga Landscape, WWF-India, “The animal, a healthy adult male, was then driven off using the FEWMD vehicle with the team keeping it under close observation. A team from WWF- India met them at Gnathang, a high altitude village en-route and proceeded with them to assist the animal’s release. A spot was chosen between Gnathang and Zaluk, two high altitude villages, which was situated at least 2 km away from the nearest human settlement. Distance from roads and army installations as well as presence of adequate tree cover were the factors that decided this release site. The mildly tranquilised bear regained consciousness half an hour after its release and scrambled downhill, away from the human habitat. Thus ended a successful rescue and release of one of the threatened wild mammal of this region.”

A similar instance in Arunachal Pradesh

The Indian Army again played the role of good Samaritan to a six month old bear cub that was rescued near Kamengbari, a remote village along the Assam- Arunachal Pradesh border on the evening of 12 June 2011. The area which is also a part of Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam is rich in flora and fauna including wild elephants, bears and many species of wild cats. The cub was initially found in an unconscious condition and was bleeding from the nose. It was immediately evacuated to the Army Camp at Kalamati and the Medical Official (MO) provided it with first aid. It was then taken to the Army Vet Hospital at Missamri Cantonment where a dedicated team of veterinary doctors under Colonel (Dr) Navaz S treated it. The bear cub responded well to the treatment and after a conscientious effort it was resuscitated and its condition stabilised. The cub was fed some milk and was administered intravenous (IV) drips and kept under observation at the Vet Hospital through the night. On the morning of 13 June, the bear cub was handed over to Dr. Abhijit Bhawal, Veterinary Surgeon of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Mr. SP Vashishth, DFO Wildlife, Tezpur, in the presence of media. The cub was shifted to the Animal Rescue Centre at Kaziranga where it will be kept under observation for six to eight months.

The unlucky ones

Not all the wildlife that strays out of forests is lucky enough to return to its home.

On 8 November 2010, WWF-India’s team led by Pranab Bora, Coordinator, Kaziranga Karbi-Anglong Landscape supported by the Vet team of WTI’s Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), staff of Kaziranga and Assam Forest Department, rescued a 2-year old male elephant calf trapped in rock crevices in the foothills of Reka Hills on the border of Nagaon and Karbi Anglong districts, which is around 40km from Kohora town. The area falls under Parkup Pahar Range of Karbi Anglong East Forest Division, towards the west of Kaziranga National Park. Pranab rushed to the spot when he received the information in the morning. The approach to the place was very tough and a heavy earth mover (JCB) had to be used to make an approach road to reach the spot and the surrounding rocks were cleared to rescue the animal. Mr. Rabha, Conservator of Forests, Karbi Anglong was present at the location to monitor the operation. According to a vet who was part of the rescue team, the calf received injuries on its head as well as on the right foreleg and IV drips were administered to it by him. He stayed with it overnight to carry out the treatment but, unfortunately, the animal passed away the next day.

According to Priya, on August 18, 2011, the Forest Department resorted to shooting down a black bear in Sumik Lingzey, East Sikkim, after tranquilisation and capture proved difficult due to the terrain. The bear was apparently feeding in a corn field and had injured an old lady cutting grass in an adjoining area. Also, the dreadful incident that occurred two years ago when two Forest Officers were grievously injured by a black bear is still fresh in the minds of people, and panic amongst villagers set in rather quickly. Says Priya, “The killing, nonetheless, was an unfortunate incident and one that everyone hopes will not have to be repeated. We also hope more rescue and release operations will be carried out to rehabilitate our precious wildlife”.


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