The dawn of the New Year holds no fascination for most beings, but for those plucked, declawed and defanged apes also known as humans, it seems to have some special significance.
Standing on the shores of 2018, we at Wildlife Trust of India see the unending tide of conservation battles still to be fought. Yet humans we are (if of the wild-at-heart persuasion), and the date affords us the minor satisfaction of stock-taking.
Here, we present our picks from among a range of conservation activities we continued or initiated in the year gone by.
01 :: FOLDED HANDS AND FORKED PENISES
In June, a joint undercover operation we conducted with the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) blew the lid off the illegal trade in hatha jodi, a ‘sacred plant root’ that is, well, something else entirely. The story of the operation, a cocktail of superstition, cruelty and barefaced fakery served with a side order of just deserts, made international headlines. (Get the inside story at National Geographic and Sanctuary Asia.)
02 :: SUCH A LONG JOURNEY
Just as 2016 drew to a close, the field team of our Whale Shark Conservation Project satellite-tagged a female whale shark off the Saurashtra coast – the seventh whale shark to be tagged under the project. By August 2017 this whale shark had been monitored via satellite for over 200 days – the first and longest migratory movement of whale sharks ever recorded from the Indian subcontinent. Also in August, we announced the launch of a massive awareness campaign aimed at securing a safer future for whale sharks off the coasts of Kerala and Lakshadweep.
03 :: THE MARCH OF THE ELEPHANTS
The country’s National Heritage Animal is in a beleaguered state, its habitats being destroyed and fragmented and its ancient migratory paths impeded, forcing it into human-use areas and into conflict with people. In New Delhi on World Elephant Day we launched the Gaj Yatra, a campaign to highlight the plight of elephants and point to solutions that would afford them their unhindered right of passage through vital habitats. Described by WTI’s Executive Director & CEO Vivek Menon as “a march to reclaim the national consciousness”, the Gaj Yatra is backed by the technical depth of the Right of Passage publication, also released last year, which details the 101 corridors that elephants need to move between their habitats in India.
Work on our long-term Right of Passage project to secure these 101 corridors continued apace, meanwhile, with the Chilla-Motichur Corridor in Uttarakhand being declared free of human habitation, patta documents being given to relocated families in Ram Terang, and an additional area of 245 hectares being added to the Jadegindam Village Reserve Forest, providing more area for elephant movement through the Rewak-Emangre Corridor in Meghalaya. Just six of the 101 corridors have been secured thus far though; clearly, there’s need for an urgent march ahead.
04 :: AN ARK IN THE DELUGE
If the 2016 floods were ‘the worst to hit Kaziranga in a decade’, the floods last year were probably the worst in 30 years. Over 85 percent of the national park’s area was inundated, hundreds of wild animals died, and many more – including tigers, rhinos, elephants, wild buffaloes and hog deer – were displaced by the fast-rising floodwaters. Over the two flood waves that occurred in July and August, Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) teams from our Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation – CWRC, run in partnership with IFAW and the Assam Forest Department – attended over 100 emergency cases related to wildlife in distress. In August, four rhino calves were rescued in separate incidents and brought to CWRC’s Large Animal Nursery within just 24 hours!
05 :: BACK FROM THE BRINK
When Valmiki Tiger Reserve in Bihar was awarded the prestigious ‘RBS Earth Guardian Award’ for 2017 in October, it was a matter of great satisfaction for us. We’ve partnered with the Bihar Forest Department since 2003 for a long-term project to restore this neglected Protected Area: conducting tiger density estimations, monitoring prey populations, mapping key habitats, training frontline staff, working with local communities to create green livelihood opportunities, and restocking the Gandak with captive-bred gharials. Derided 15 years ago as a ‘tiger reserve without tigers’, Valmiki is today being hailed as an exemplar of conservation success.
06 :: CATS IN THE SOUP
Human population growth; the shrinking of wild habitats; the depletion of wild prey populations – all of these intertwined factors have led to an increase in conflict between people and wild cat species in recent years. Our Rapid Response Teams were consequently kept on their toes in several conflict situations: helping capture a man-eater near Pilibhit Tiger Reserve at the beginning of the year, tranquilising a tiger that had strayed into a village in Maharashtra towards the close, and surviving a close encounter or two besides. Dealing with carnivore conflict is about more than dealing with wild cats, however, and we continued efforts to engage with communities living on the fringes of Protected Areas – without being partial to big cat species either.
07 :: BACK TO THE WILD
Rehabilitation into the wild is the outcome we strive towards whenever we’re required to bring wild animals under our care, whether for short-term interventions or following years of hand-raising. Among our several successes this year were ‘Makumi’ and ‘Karbi’, the two western hoolock gibbons hand-raised at CWRC and released into the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape; the six civet pups (three of them leucistic) rehabilitated into Similipal Tiger Reserve; and two leopard cats our Western Assam MVS helped send back to the wild. In September, in a resounding endorsement of our rhino rehabilitation efforts in Manas National Park, ‘Jamuna’, a female rhino that had been hand-raised at CWRC and rehabilitated in 2010, gave birth to her second calf in the wild. As the curtain came down on 2017, three lesser adjutant storks, brought to CWRC in critical condition as fledglings, were just about ready to spread their wings and take flight.
+1 :: GROWING WILD
Wait, but how could we forget the kids? Our interface with children across several projects was, indeed, one of the high points of our year. Whether through a street play on Park Opening Day in Manas, on Global Tiger Day or during Wildlife Week, on Gujarat Whale Shark Day or World Environment Day, or through several local wildlife awareness events; from Kunhimangalam to Gondia, from Baramulla to Mudahalli, we celebrated wildlife with young ‘uns.