IFAW-WTI Emergency Relief Network Digest 2006-2007
ERN is a network of people whose expertise on wildlife rehabilitation and disaster relief could be utilised to provide emergency relief to animals in crisis and distress in areas where Wildlife Trust of India and its international partner, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have no direct presence. The digest is envisioned to reflect members’ activities and achievements in the field of emergency relief and rehabilitation. In the last year’s editorial, I reported 129 members. By March 2007, the number nearly doubled with an additional 117 members enrolling their names in the network. Though the membership in terms of number has shown an increase, there are still a few states which are yet to be represented. These include Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Nagaland, Sikkim and the island states of Andaman-Nicobar, and Lakshadweep.
Great strides in the field of Emergency Relief and Wildlife Rehabilitation have been made the publication of the first issue of the ERN Digest. Few of these are simply processes or steps towards the achievement of the milestones. ‘Return to the wild’ of permanently displaced animals is a long-drawn out process and it involves many stages like stabilization of the new arrival, hand-raising, housing, suitability assessment, site selection, relocation to the release site, acclimatization to habitat, imparting survival skills, release and monitoring. Some of these processes achieved during 2006-07 have been included for publication in this year’s digest. There are
very few annual periodicals in the field of wildlife conservation in India. The Indian Zoo Year Book and Indian Wildlife Year book, by their very names, are intended for covering the ex-situand in-situ wildlife conservation scenario in the country every year. The ERN digest in that sense is meant to be different though it may contain articles on the processes involved in the rehabilitation of wildlife. This issue contains articles on field rescue (Ganges river dolphin), return to the wild of confiscated animals (Asian elephant), capture and relocation (one-horned rhino, wild buffalo), assessing the suitability of animals for release (Bengal tiger) and also comprehensive ones dealing with the entire rehab process, from hand-raising to release (particoloured flying squirrel). Interestingly, this issue has two articles on each topic or taxa: two articles on wildlife rehabilitation scenario (Manipur, Thane in Maharashtra), two articles on big cats (leopard and tiger), two articles on squirrels (giant squirrel and flying squirrel), two articles on elephants (Assam and Arunachal), two articles on deer (chital and muntjak), two articles on aquatic species (darter and river dolphin) and so on.
When I look at the composition of articles in this 2006-07 issue, the topics differ a great deal when compared to last year. The articles in the current issue have been grouped under “General articles”, “ER and rehab”, “Relocations and release” and “Annual Reports”. The section on “Relocations and release” has a complete set of contributions on animal moves, for the purpose of reintroduction, introduction or supplementation. Capture and translocation of wildlife species is an art by itself and has been accomplished with varying degrees of success in India. Rhinos have been moved “wild to wild” for reintroduction, crocodiles have been moved “captive to wild” for supplementation, species like leopard, tiger or bear have been captured and moved to captivity for resolving conflict, and vultures are caught and moved to captivity for conservation breeding. This issue contains five articles on animal relocations, all done for various reasons. The article on rhino relocation describes in detail how two rhinos were moved from the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) in Kaziranga National Park to Manas National Park for the purpose of reintroduction. The article on wild buffalo relocation narrates how the project personnel had to transport the animals by road, boat and on foot, all under sedation. The one on relocation of handraised elephants shows how moving them is comparatively easier. The relocation of spotted deer and barking deer described in the remaining two articles deal with two contrasting ways of capturing and moving cervids. Though the spotted deer relocation program was actually a deliberate case of introduction, we have considered it for publication as it describes in detail a novel method of herding deer directly into the truck without subjecting them to the trauma of physical or chemical capture. The other
contribution on barking deer relocation has been done the veterinary way; by loading them into trucks by chemical capture. Chemical capture of ungulates is fraught with potential dangers to the animals and reports of deaths of few animals are not uncommon due to the much talked about cause called capture myopathy. A stress free capture and relocation is therefore a challenge to wildlife managers and veterinarians.The barking deer relocation is one of the few success stories of a large scale relocation of an ungulate where mortality has been kept to a minimum.
Under ER and Rehabilitation, we have five articles. For the first time we have an article on the rehabilitation of flying squirrels. CWRC, Assam has been receiving baby flying squirrels from different parts of Assam often brought to the centre by tea garden labourers who see them being mobbed by crows. Flying squirrels, unlike giant squirrels, can manage to live in marginally disturbed habitats with no canopy continuity as they can glide and reach adjoining trees with ease. Readers will appreciate the softrelease technique followed for rehabilitating a pair of parti-coloured flying squirrels, an endangered species as per the IUCN Red Data list. Being gliding mammals, it is crucial to expose them adequately to wilderness to perfect their gliding and foraging skills before being considered for release. Flying squirrel rehabilitation is probably more difficult to achieve than that of giant squirrels’ as they are nocturnal and in-situ acclimatisation would therefore involve habituating the squirrels at night. A question often asked by critics is the requirement of survival skills, primarily foraging and antipredator strategies, before undertaking any release. Studies have shown that these skills are innate in most animals and they have to be only given the much needed “match practice” in their natural environment before release. This is a kind of ‘assisted’ release where the animals decide when they want to go. Our experience over the years has shown that hard releases are largely suitable for temporarily displaced animals nd not hand-raised ones. The two articles on big-cats rehabilitation speak about the reasons for not rehabilitating them. CWRC has been involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of tigers, both cubs and
adults, since its inception in 2002. This is not surprising considering the fact that KNP is reported to have the highest density of tigers in India. Of the five animals brought to the centre for care, one died, two were transferred to the zoo and two were released. The article included here is about one of the two tigers that could not be released, and therefore had to be transferred to a lifetime care facility. The article by estimating the Emergency Relief Network Digest 9 tiger’s approximate age based on its dentition provides a solid reason as to why the tiger was not considered for release. We had a similar problem with sloth bear cubs confiscated from Kalandars as their deciduous teeth had been knocked off by them. There was a doubt whether their dental pads or tooth buds have been cauterised to prevent the eruption of permanent teeth. The issue was resolved after a detailed study and an article on this would appear in the next issue of ERN digest. The other article on big-cats published here is about the placement option for leopards displaced due to conflict with humans. The deliberations of the workshop on human-leopard conflict held in Delhi in January 2007 clearly discouraged the release of hand-raised leopards to the wild after rehabilitation. This decision rules out the possibility of considering ‘return to the wild’ as an option for displaced leopard cubs. In the article on the rehabilitation of confiscated elephants in Roing, Arunachal Pradesh, we see the first ever release of Asian elephants confiscated from traders who
were actually training them for captive use. The Department of Environment and Forests, Arunachal Pradesh, confiscated the elephants and sought the help of WTI for treatment and possible rehabilitation. The article documents the process involved in treating their wounds, tracking down their place of capture, releasing them near wild herds and monitoring them by radio-tracking. This effort, first of its kind in India to be reported and documented, ensures that we have three elephants less in captivity. Timely enforcement has played an important role in getting the elephants rescued in time before the trainers could complete the ‘crash-course’ on them. Such efforts will not only reduce the entry of elephants to captive elephant trade but also discourage poachers from indulging in activities like this in future. A rehab centre or project has a similar role, attempting to release the animals at the source itself and minimize the ntry of animals in lifetime care centres like zoos and rescue centres. The last section is on the Annual Reports submitted by different individuals and organizations involved in wildlife rescues across the country. I anticipated a significant increase in the number of contributors this year, but it has unfortunately remained the same. As I mentioned last year, only a fraction of the rescues undertaken by different organizations have been presented in this volume. We are aware of several confiscations and rescues being carried out regularly in many states and zoos. We have not been able to get the information from them so far.The article on the rescue of Ganges river dolphin is a typical example of providing emergency relief to an animal in distress. The author goes into great detail how the animal was brought out of the entanglement and released in a safe place. Lot of readers have commended on our attempt to bring all rescues under a common platform and publish them in a digest. At the same time we have received some criticisms as well on the contents of the article. We can only assure the readers that the quality of articles is only destined to improve and for this to be realized, we need the cooperation of all the contributors.