Circle of life in Manas, India: rehabilitated rhinos continue to thrive


Manas, August 16, 2014: Dr Bhaskar Choudhury, Regional Head (Assam) of WTI wrote this blog as he was monitoring the rehabilitated rhinos, now proud mothers in the wild, and fondly remembering being there when they first came in as orphan calves.


The mother and calf foraging together.. happy and free in the wild. Photo: IFAW-WTI

On May 16, as the world waited for the results of the elections in the world’s largest democracy, things were quite different at our field site in Greater Manas. Excitement prevailed here as well, but for different reasons.

I happened to be at the Rhino Camp around lunch time at 1:30 pm then. It had been four days in motion with no fixed location for food or stay, tracking the elephant calves we had recently moved to Manas.

At the Rhino Camp, our two able animal keepers, Debojit Saikia and Rohan Goyari had just prepared lunch after attending to the rhino calves – Purabi and Doimalu, at the nursing boma.

Just as we finished our hearty lunch of rice, lentils and spinach with a slice of lemon, I received a message from the ever-active Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) DD Boro. “Your elephants have been sighted near Kahibaari beat area close to the park boundary,” he said.

The short and crisp wireless message had us on our wheels again. With the monitoring vehicle under repair, we (me and Debojit) relied on a motorbike for transport – stopping and slipping at every turn on the muddy and slushy forest roads.

En route, we saw two of the rhinos – Ganga and Jamuna, we had moved to Manas in 2007, along with their calves born last year!

I could not resist waiting a bit longer to get a better glimpse of Ganga with her calf as they were much farther. Our perseverance paid off as we managed to have a good look; her calf had visibly grown bigger as had Jamuna’s.

As I stood by a little while longer, Jamuna’s rescue scene played through my head. It was in Kaziranga during the ravaging floods of July 2004. Separated from her mother, the anxious and confused calf with clear predator injury marks all over the body struggled to escape us as we tried to ‘rescue’ her.

We owe the brave soul Abhijit Das, also known as the snake man of Assam, a great deal for her rescue – the leap over her head with a blanket while I readied the anaesthetic. Our keeper Prasanta Das equally bravely caught hold of her simultaneously, withstanding a severe blow from the struggling calf, as I injected the drug.

The anaesthetic soon took effect and she was moved to the IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center without much events thereon. Following six months of constant care of Drs Anjan Talukdar, Bhupen Samra and Bijoy Dutta, she recovered from her injuries.

This involved her being physically forced into lateral sleep position every evening to dress her wounds, as use of a daily anaesthetic is not advisable. However, all that paid off; she recovered and recovered well.

Now a proud mother of a female calf in Manas, I wondered whether she remembers all this. Maybe not, just as she would be unaware of the curfew imposed in the settlements 1.2 km away from where she currently stood, or of the election results that held the whole of India in its grip.

We moved on from there, hoping to see the elephant calves as well, but by the time we reached the site as informed by the ACF earlier, the calves had moved away and we had missed our chance. We made do with the knowledge that they had been sighted by the monitoring team on the ground.

We crossed the park boundary just in time to purchase some spinach from an old lady vendor for my next meal. As the army blew on the whistle at 5 pm to mark the closure of the markets, my day had come full circle, as had the life of Jamuna and other calves successfully rehabilitated by our hard-working team and supporters.