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08 FROM 2016: THE WTI YEAR IN REVIEW


David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, Glenn Frey, the-artist-formerly-and-then-once-again-known-as-Prince – 2016 was played out in the media as a rough year for the music industry. Well, the conservation community in India lost one of its own true rock stars last year: Ashok Kumar, wildlife warrior, conservation legend, known as the father of wildlife crime control in India. WTI’s co-founder, chairman emeritus, village elder and guiding light in perpetuity.




Another legendary conservationist, Dr George B Schaller, once said (in effect) that there are no victories in conservation. And while that is true in the sense of the never-ending wars to be waged in defence of wildlife and its habitats, the securing of a wild space, especially given the current fragmented, diminishing, depredated state of such spaces, is as close as it gets to a small battle won.

As the 19 families of Ram Terang, a hamlet in the Karbi Anglong Hills of Assam,
moved into their newly constructed homes at a new location in March, it marked the culmination of a long-haul process of voluntary relocation that had commenced in 2010. Meanwhile, at the site where their old village had stood, elephants now had clear #RightOfPassage through the Kalapahar-Daigurung elephant corridor.

In August, with the
signing and formal issuance of a Final Gazette Notification by the Government of Assam, an area of 350 sq km from the eastern part of the Manas Reserve Forest was officially declared as the First Addition to Manas National Park – a historic step towards the dream of a ‘Greater Manas’, which we’ve worked towards for over a decade.

The following month, in another of our corridor battlegrounds in central India, one more step forward: the Government of Maharashtra declared an area of 1241.27 sq km as the Buffer Zone of Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve.




June 5, World Environment Day, saw the dawn of new hope for the critically endangered gharial, as field teams of our Gharial Conservation Project on the Gandak River in north Bihar found that hatchlings had emerged from nests that had been discovered and protected since April. “Discovering a breeding population in the Gandak River, the third-largest among the four breeding populations in India, is great news for the future of gharial conservation in the country”, said BC Choudhury, renowned crocodilian expert and Senior Advisor, WTI.

Meanwhile, it was reported that the Sarus Crane Conservation Project, working through Sarus Mitras, local farmers and Sarus Protection Committee members, had identified, monitored and provided protection to over 350 sarus nests across eastern UP from 2013 to September 2016.



A new partnership with Apollo Tyres led to the launch of the Kannur Kandal Project, a critical mangrove restoration project in the Kannur district of Kerala in May. Oracle decided to lend our Central Indian Wild Buffalo Conservation Project a crucial supporting hand. The Union Bank Social Foundation provided our Greater Manas Conservation Project a new veterinary vehicle.

And the year ended on a special note for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), long-term partner on several of our projects, as it
won the prestigious FICCI Corporate Social Responsibility Award for 2016 for its support of the Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project.




Our flagship wildlife care facility, the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC; the only facility in India where orphaned and/or injured wild animals of several species are hand-raised and/or treated and subsequently returned to the wild) is used to a bit of attention. This year was special by far though, with Their Royal Highnesses William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visiting in April.

The team at CWRC more than rose to the occasion when the worst floods in over a decade hit Kaziranga National Park in July. Working in conjunction with the Assam Forest Department, Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) teams
attended 107 rescue cases in the space of a week. The sudden influx of rescued animals – and especially the eight orphaned rhino calves saved from the flood waters and brought to the centre – stretched CWRC’s resources to the limit. Veterinarians and animal keepers worked round the clock to ensure that rescued animals received the required treatment and care.

The plight of flood-affected animals led to an outpour of public interest and empathy. In one of the most touching displays of support, students of a remote school in Golaghat, Assam,
decided to sacrifice one mid-day meal in order to buy milk formula for the eight orphaned rhino calves being rehabilitated at CWRC.




Our interface with children across several projects was, indeed, one of the high points of the year. Whether on International Tiger Day, or during Wildlife Week, or Gujarat Whale Shark Day; through the restoration of a football ground, or the holding of a kho-kho tournament, or the setting up of a scholarship; from Kunhimagalam to Gondia to the Garo Hills, we celebrated wildlife with young ‘uns.




Our engagement with frontline forest staff around the country continued with several Wildlife Crime Prevention trainings and refresher trainings, but we provided the occasional twist – at the Advanced Training Workshop on Wild Rescue and Rehabilitation at Similipal Tiger Reserve for instance, or the workshop on Call Data Records analysis conducted for wildlife crime investigators at Periyar Tiger Reserve.

We also conducted a training programme
for conservation guides and naturalists in Pune and turned tribal youths into wild buffalo trackers in Udanti WLS. Further, we continued our work to encourage the development of ecologically appropriate livelihoods in forest-adjacent communities by strengthening Self Help Groups (SHGs) among the Nyishi tribals with a workshop on making artificial fur products, conducting a first-of-its-kind community training on biodiversity for the women of Bihar’s Done Valley,  and commencing a handloom textiles skill development training for Bodo women under the Ministry of Women & Child Development’s Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP).




As part of our coordinated and multisectoral approach to tackling wildlife crime, we provided, as we have on a monthly basis since 2013, legal assistance to the relevant authorities in
Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. As many as 52 cases in Kanha and 29 cases in Pench were handled in the six-month period leading up to December.

A tiger skin and other wildlife products were recovered and four persons arrested during an operation by the Manas Tiger Protection authority in October. The training we’ve imparted to forest staff in Manas – including procedures for search and seizure, interrogation techniques, and the preparation of evidentiary documents – “has clearly helped in such cases”, the Manas Field Director declared.

An undercover operation conducted in October by officials of the Kerala Forest Department in Periyar Tiger Reserve – an operation for which our enforcement team provided crucial intelligence – resulted in the
seizure of 14 jackal skins and the arrest of a trader and smuggler of wildlife articles.

And in another victory for the ‘lesser-known’ wild species, pangolins were moved, finally, to CITES’ Appendix I
through a vote at the 17th Conference of the Parties in September – a major boost and vindication of our own efforts to bring the illegal trade in pangolins and their parts to the forefront in India.




The increase in human-wildlife conflict, caused by growing anthropogenic pressures on wild habitats, was reflected in the number of conflict cases that we attended. In several, whether the
Asiatic black bear in Kokrajkhar in January, or the Burmese python rescued with its clutch of eggs in June (28 of which hatched, meaning that the one rescue saved 29 wild lives), or the leopard in Maddur, or the tigress in Tezpur, or the sub-adult tiger that strayed out of Pilibhit TR, or the massive adult tiger that found itself in Dolabari, we were able to intervene and help send the animal #BackToTheWild.

And though reuniting distressed elephant calves with their mothers or natal herds is a difficult proposition, our MVS teams in Assam were able to achieve just that on multiple occasions, whether in
Gomeri, North Lakhimpur, or Numaligarh Tea Estate.

Elsewhere, on the west coast in our Whale Shark Conservation Project, the number of rescue-releases documented by fishermen under the Self Documentation Scheme crossed 600 in July. Two whale sharks were also
satellite tagged (the sixth and seventh satellite tagged under the project overall, but the first such taggings in almost 15 months), both in the last ten days of 2016.


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