After signing the Bodoland Accord in February 2002 and the creation of a separate Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) peace and normalcy ensued. The restoration of wildlife and infrastructure in Manas Tiger Reserve remained the greatest challenge for the government and conservation fraternity. The UNESCO had declared Manas as a World Heritage Site (in Danger) during the year 1998 based on the threats to the unique bioviversity of Manas during the civil unrest. Wildlife Trust of India was one of the first organizations to step in under these circumstances and help the BTC, the Government of Assam and community-based organisations to save and restore Manas, one of the first Tiger Reserves declared in the country in 1974. The project is divided into several components:
Rhino Rehabilitation Programme
In February 2006, for the first time in India, the Assam Forest Department and Wildlife Trust of India - International Fund for Animal Welfare (WTI-IFAW) translocated a hand-raised rhino calf to Manas.
This marked the beginning of an ambitious project to reintroduce rhinos to Manas, where the species was driven to local extinction by poaching. WTI-IFAW's Rhino Rehabilitation Project aims to gradually repopulate rhinos in Manas, by relocating and rehabilitating orphaned or displaced hand-raised rhinos from Kaziranga National Park. This effort to repopulate rhinos in Manas is supported by the Bodoland Territorial Council and the Assam Forest Department.
Kaziranga National Park largely falls within the Brahmaputra River flood plains and gets inundated annually in the rainy season. The floods take a heavy toll on wildlife including rhinos. In addition to death by drowning and displacement on being washed away, increased rhino poaching has also been associated with these floods as the escaping animals are highly vulnerable when they move out of the park in search of higher ground.
The Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), situated near Kaziranga National Park has been rescuing displaced rhino calves since its inception in 2002. The project is a joint venture between the Assam Forest Department and WTI-IFAW.
CWRC keeper Bhadreshwar Das bottle feeding orphaned rhino calfs
A resident veterinarian and animal keepers look after the rescued rhino calves and other animals at CWRC. Initially housed in the stabilisation chamber for varying periods depending on the age, the rhino calves are later transferred to a spacious outdoor enclosure within the centre.
Left: Animal keepers tending to a rhino calf in the stabilisation chamber at CWRC
Right: Calves in the outdoor enclosure
Once the captive calves stable and old enough, they are readied for their relocation to the release site in Manas for a 'soft-release'. The rhinos are screened for diseases to prevent transmission into the wild and are radio-collared to facilitate post-release monitoring. They are then transported to Manas in trucks, usually mildly sedated to prevent panic.
Left: Radio-collaring a rhino calf before its relocation to Manas NP
Right: The rhino calf to be relocated, inspects the wooden crate placed in its enclosure.
In Manas, a spacious boma (a temporary enclosure) spanning about 33 acres has been created at Bansbari Range. The rhinos, relocated from CWRC, are released into the boma where they are confined till they attain sexual maturity. The boma ensures protection to the calves from predators, while allowing them to acclimatise to the local environment. The rhinos in the boma have no interactions with humans except during periodical medical assessments.
After about two or three years of acclimatisation, the calves are released into the wild and are remotely monitored round-the-clock with the help of radio-transmitters.
Translocated rhino calves in boma
Elephant Reintegration Programme
An elephant calf is bottle-fed at CWRC, Assam
In northeast India, particularly in Assam, a number of wild elephant calves are separated from their herd, every year. Reasons for these displacements are varied – accidentally trapped in tea garden trenches, left behind during conflicts with humans, injuries either man-induced or otherwise, washed away by floods, among others - or even desertion for unknown reasons.
Elephant Reintegration was initiated with an aim to rehabilitate these displaced calves back into the wild. It is a joint venture of the Assam Forest Department and International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI).
With many displaced elephant calves landing up at the IFAW-WTI run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation centre, their rehabilitation into the wild was a preferred choice.
The first priority of the rehabilitators, following discovery of a lone calf, is to attempt for immediate reunion with the natal herd. Even as the calf is stabilised in situ, extensive search is carried out to locate its herd. While the search is on, the calf is termed "temporarily-displaced," pending reunion.
These searches usually last 2-3 days, but are not always successful. In these cases, the calf is classified as "permanently-displaced" and is formally inducted into the CWRC for handraising.
Handraising elephant calves at CWRC is always done with the goal of returning them back to the wild. Young calves are bottle-fed till they are 2.5 years old. They are allowed to interact with one another to facilitate social bonding. The calves are then gradually acquainted with their natural environment. They are taken for daily accompanied walks into the forest to promote natural behaviour, particularly foraging.
At a suitable age, the calves that have developed a close familial bond, are readied for relocation to a suitable reintegration site. The selection of the reintegration site itself is a prolonged scientific exercise. This involves evaluation of numerous factors like presence of wild herds, resource availability, distance from human habitations, and activity of poachers.
The relocation of the elephant calves is preceded by a detailed disease screening. The calves are also microchipped and fitted with collars with embedded radio-transmitters to help track them in the wild. They are then moved to the reintegration site through road transport, often mildly sedated to prevent them from panicking.
The reintegration of the calves follows a soft-release protocol, allowing prolonged acclimatisation to the wilderness that is to be their home. At nights, they are confined in a spacious stockade for safety, and during the days they are taken for long walks in different parts of the forest. To facilitate interaction with wild herds, the accompanying keeper remains hidden only to observe their behavior.
The project team members wait while loading elephants on the
truck for relocation to the rehabilitation site
Left: An elephant calf is loaded on to a truck for relocation to the rehabilitation site
Right: Elephant calves walk out of the truck at the rehabilitation site
Over a span of time, supplementary food - initially provided to meet the dietary needs of the calves - is gradually reduced to encourage dependence on natural diet. Gradually, the calves detach themselves from their keeper. They become more and more reluctant to return to the stockade at nights, leading to eventual independence from their foster parent. The calves are then remotely monitored till a successful reintegration with wild herds is firmly established.