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PROJECTS
Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project
Project Leader:   Dr. Rathin Barman
In November, 2010, Forest Department of Assam and WTI in collaboration with ONGC launched a 3-year long ecological research programme – the “Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project” in Kaziranga, in an effort to understand the ecology of the swamp deer and develop strategies for conservation of the sub-species. This was designed, to help in developing conservation strategies for the swamp deer population in Kaziranga and to create new sub-populations in the subspecies’ erstwhile distribution.
Supporter: ONGC
 “Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project” in collaboration with ONGC 



The Eastern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi) is a subspecies of Swamp deer found in the Eastern region of India. The deer formerly distributed all over the Brahmaputra floodplains and the Terai foot hills of Eastern Himalayas are now found in a single isolated population in Kaziranga National Park. With less than a thousand individuals, this population is facing an extinction threat due to various anthropogenic as well as biological forces. However, this deer sub-species remains in the shadows of the charismatic species such as the one-horned rhinocerous (Rhinocerous unicornis), tiger (Panthera tigris) and elephant (Elephus maximus), and thus remains neglected and little known to the conservation world.

In November, 2010, Forest Department of Assam (AFD) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in collaboration with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) launched a three-years long ecological research programme – the “Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project” in Kaziranga National Park, in an effort to understand the ecology of the Eastern swamp deer and develop management strategies for conservation of the sub-species. The study aimed to understand the population dynamics, habitat requirements, food requirements, threats and factors limiting growth and distribution of Eastern swamp deer in Kaziranga National Park. This was designed, to help in developing sound conservation strategies for the Swamp deer population in Kaziranga National Park and also to create new sub-populations in the subspecies’ erstwhile distribution range.

The project also strived to accomplish additional conservation initiatives such as community awareness to reduce detrimental anthropogenic impacts on this last population of the sub-species and its stronghold in Kaziranga National Park. Further, the project attempts to device awareness strategies for the larger masses including policy makers, to enhance future conservation efforts.

Phase-I of conservation of Eastern swamp deer in Assam was the first three years of the project. As Phase-I got over the project was extended to Phase-II, which includes the translocation of Eastern swamp deer from Kaziranga to other areas and formation of new viable population.

Phase-I: Ecological Studies on Eastern Swamp Deer in Kaziranga National Park
The findings and activities of the first phase of the project can be summed up as follows.

Population Estimation and Distribution:
• Six biannual population estimation exercises have been conducted from 2011 to 2014, recording the population status and dynamics of Eastern swamp deer in Kaziranga National Park for each year. An estimated of about 800-900 Swamp deer now reside in the park.

• A total of 20 locations have identified in Kaziranga National Park where the Swamp deer herds have been located. The Central and the Western Range of the park harbors most of the population, while the Eastern range and the Burahpahar ranges hold the rest of the population. The river islands of the Northern range also reported a few scattered individuals.

Habitat, Ranging Patterns and Food Habit:
• Five Eastern swamp deer (two male and three female) were radio-collared in Kaziranga National Park during 2012-2014 to study the ranging pattern and habitat affinity of individuals in various habitat types of the Kaziranga landscape. Further, the micro and macro habitat of the deer in Kaziranga was studied through ground sampling and LULC maps. The home range was estimated to be around 6 sq. km in a year.

• 35 species of plants belonging to 12 families have been identified to be part of the Esatern Swamp deer’s diet. The overall diet of swamp deer consists mainly of different grasses & sedges (80%), while aquatic plant form the other major portion (14%). The rest of the diet consisted of shrubs & herbs (6%).

Life History, Activity Pattern and Herd Structure:
• During the study, the deer life history was studied. The mating season of the deer was recorded in July-August, while fawning was observed in March-April. The antler cycle of the male deer was also detailed.

• The activity pattern of the deer was observed by diurnal instantaneous scans. Diurnal and seasonal changes in various activity patterns such as grazing, moving, resting, etc were recorded during the scans. The seasonal fluctuations in herd size and composition were also studied. The mean male to female ratio was 1:3, while female to fawn ratio was 1:7 in Kaziranga National Park.

Conservation Initiatives:
• Awareness programmes for highlighting the species and the project was carried out during the last year of the programme. Local media channels and stakeholders were involved in various activities of the project to orient them about the need for conservation of the deer species.

• A series of meetings and discussions were held with local, national and international wildlife experts and government officials on formulating a conservation plan for the deer. An international workshop was organized to develop further conservation strategies through translocation of few individuals to other suitable areas. As a result, a protocol titled “Eastern swamp deer translocation protocol” was developed with inputs from various national and international experts which will be a guide for future translocation of the deer to form a new viable population outside kaziranga.

• Additional surveys were conducted in Manas National Park and Laokhowa-Burachapori Wildlife Sanctuary of Assam to assess their viability as a new Swamp deer habitat. It was suggested that re-establishment of a new viable population in Manas National Park through translocation of few individuals from Kaziranga National Park would prove to be a feasible strategy for long term conservation and protection of this sub-species.

Phase-II: Formation of a new population of Eastern Swamp Deer

On the basis of the information collected during the first phase of the “Eastern Swamp Deer Conservation Project” and the “Eastern Swamp Deer Translocation Protocol”, a future plan of action has been drawn, considering Manas National Park as the potential translocation site. The following points can be described as the future course of activities which would implemented during the second phase of the project.

Translocation and restocking of a population of Eastern swamp deer from Kaziranga National Park to Manas National Park or Other Protected Area in Assam.
A small population of Eastern swamp deer will be translocated to Manas National Park following the “Eastern Swamp Deer Translocation Protocol”. The first batch of the deer to be translocated would consist of 20-30 individuals in a ratio of 70% female and 30% male. The “Passive Mass Capture” technique will be used for the deer capture and translocation.

Establishment of a captive breeding programme at Manas National Park for the translocated swamp deer
Following the Kanha National Park‘s model, a swamp deer captive breeding programme will be developed in Manas National Park using the translocated deer as the source population. The captive breeding programme will be carried out until a considerable population is reached inside the enclosure. Once the captive breeding programme is considered successful, the Swamp deer will be released in batches into the wild to form the new population in Manas.

• Monitoring the Swamp deer population in Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park
A long term Eastern swamp deer population monitoring projects will be developed for both Kaziranga and Manas National Park. For Kaziranga, “Total count population estimation” will be conducted two times every year: Pre-fawning estimation (November-December) and Post-Fawning estimation (April-May), sampling the Swamp deer areas of the park. In Manas National Park, the already existing population will be surveyed. This will provide information on the size and composition of the unknown Swamp deer population of Manas.

Involving local communities and other stakeholders in the protection of the species in Kaziranga and Manas.
Awareness activities would be carried out in both Manas and Kaziranga National Park through a series of community meetings and discussions, production and distribution of campaign material highlighting the importance of the subspecies to the local populace as well as policy makers.

Further, an international broadcast quality documentary would be produced to showcase the activities to save the Eastern swamp deer from brink of extinction. This will help in spreading the awareness among local and as well as international communities about the swamp deer and its importance.

RELATED PUBLICATIONS

A herd of Eastern Swamp Deer in Kaziranga National Park. Photo: Rathin/WTI

A male and a female Eastern swamp deer walking in the Kaziranga National Park

Boma being constructed in Kaziranga National Park to capture the deer. Photo: Subhamoy/WTI

The capture boma construction at Solmara Beel for Eastern swamp deer mass capture in the Central Range of Kaziranga National Park on 28th November 2014.Photo:Rathin Barman/WTI

The capture boma construction at Solmara Beel for Eastern swamp deer mass capture in the Central Range of Kaziranga National Park on 28th November 2014.Photo:Rathin Barman/WTI

We take care of each and every detail. The specially fabricated truck that would take the deer on their long journey from Kaziranga to Manas. Photo:Subhamoy/WTI

The strategy team discussing the capture situation on ground in presence of Dr. Markus Hofmyr from South Africa at Solmara beel in central range of Kaziranga National Park on 9th December 2014.Photo:Subhamoy/WTI

Customised animal transporting vehicle is prepared and placed at the entrance of the animal capture boma for the eastern Swamp Deer translocation by the team of WTI on 23rd December. Photo:Subhamoy/WTI

Customised truck placed at the entrance of the animal capture boma for the Eastern Swamp Deer translocation by the WTI team Photo:Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/WTI

Captured Eastern swamp deer inside the fabricated truck after the mass capture at Kaziranga National Park on 26th December 2014.Photo:Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/WTI

The Eastern swamp deer from Kaziranga National Park are released at the especially designed boma at Manas National Park on December 27, 2014.Photo:Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/WTI

The hard work finally pays off. The team celebrating the release of Eastern swamp deer in Manas National Park. Photo:Subhamoy/WTI
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