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Veterinarians Trained in Wildlife Management, Human-animal Conflict Mitigation at Mudumalai Tiger Reserve
Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, February 27, 2017: A capacity-building training programme aimed at increasing the number of veterinarians in Tamil Nadu capable of capturing and/or treating wild animals, particularly during human-animal conflict scenarios, was organised earlier this month at Mudumalai TR. The programme targeted veterinarians working near Protected Areas in the Western and Eastern Ghats and was organised by OSAI (an environmental organization based in Coimbatore) in association with the Tamil Nadu Forest Department, the Department of Animal Husbandry, and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), with support from the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF).

WTI Chief Veterinarian Dr NVK Ashraf addresses participants during the inauguration of the training programme

Today, managing human-wildlife conflict is one of the greatest challenges for conservation agencies in India. The country has over half the world’s remaining population of tigers and Asian elephants, with an estimated 10,300 - 17,400 elephants in South India alone. Elephants are among the most conflict-prone wildlife species in India, causing large-scale damage to crops and human lives: over 400 people and 100 elephants are killed in conflict related instances annually and nearly 500,000 families are affected by crop damage (Ministry of Environment and Forests, 2010).

Human-wildlife conflict has various dimensions and can cause injuries and fatalities to both people and animals. Wild animals may need to be driven back into forests they have strayed out of, or be captured and translocated to other territories depending on the situation. Apart from sociologists and biologists, trained veterinarians have a vital role to play in conflict mitigation; their expertise is crucial in such situations as they have a unique understanding of animal behaviour and animal welfare, and can safely handle wild animals in a manner that minimises the possibility of harm to either animals or humans.

Trainees at the Theppakadu captive elephant camp at Mudumalai TR

Tamil Nadu, unfortunately, has only one forest veterinary officer and one forest assistant veterinary surgeon for the entire state, making it nigh impossible for them to attend all conflict issues. It is therefore crucial that other veterinarians be trained to handle wild animals if a conflict situation should arise. To address this issue, Wildlife Trust of India’s Wild Aid Division sanctioned a Rapid Action Project to provide the appropriate training to veterinarians working near Protected Areas in the state.

Twenty-one participants – 19 Veterinary Assistant Surgeons and two Assistant Directors from the Department of Animal Husbandry – from the districts of Coimbatore, Erode as well as the Nilgiris (regions in which conflict situations arise regularly) attended the first batch of the training held at Mudumalai TR. Sessions were organised on wildlife conservation; the role of veterinarians in wildlife management; capture and translocation; management of captive elephants and their health; and the status of human-wildlife conflict in Tamil Nadu.

A session on the proper use of tranquilising equipment underway at the training event
Dr S Shanmugasundaram, Regional Joint Director (AH) and Forest Veterinary Officer (Retd) informed the participants about the basic principles of wildlife health assessment. Dr NS Manoharan, Deputy Director and Forest Veterinary Officer discussed various case studies on wildlife capture and translocation. Dr NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian of WTI conducted a session on conflict scenarios and the prompt actions required from veterinarians therein.

Field visits were also made to the tiger reserve and Theppakadu Elephant Camp. Dr E Vijayaragavan, Forest Veterinary Assistant Surgeon at the camp, explained various aspects of captive elephant management including feed preparation and disease management. While the training was underway a female elephant was found dead in a coffee estate adjoining the tiger reserve; as a field exercise, Dr E Vijayaragavan took the participants to the site and conducted a post-mortem, simultaneously explaining the post-mortem protocols, techniques and other procedures.

By improving the trainees’ knowledge of wildlife diseases, developing their capacity to manage captive animals and enhancing their ability to effectively respond to conflict-related emergencies, this training programme has increased the number of veterinarians who can be engaged during wildlife operations in Tamil Nadu. More sessions are ongoing and three additional batches of veterinarians are expected to be trained soon.  
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