Category : Blog

3 days, 13 hours ago 0
Posted in: Blog

When good intentions of the government are stymied by minor procedural issues

 

Kudremukh Landscape © Kiran Yadav

Reticent Chandramathi is a gram panchayat member in Kerwase, Karkala taluk where her family is now settled. Coconut and arecanut trees surround the house and fetch the family a good revenue. More importantly, all her six sons have been educated after the move from Malejodi settlement in Belthangadi range of the Kudremukh National Park.

“For any emergency we had to walk 6-8 kms from where we lived in the middle of the forest. Often, when my husband was out on work, I would be alone in the house with no help around,” she reminisces. Her husband Raju agrees. The family moved out in 2011 and was paid Rs 16 lakhs by Wildlife Conservation Society India as part of private funded land purchase.

Three of the boys in the family go to work as labour while one has just completed his BBM degree from a college in Karkala.

 

Kerwase gram panchayat member, Chandramathi in her new house © Manish Machaiah

The diminutive Shekar, a Malekudiya, a primitive tribe of the Western Ghats, also had a similar reason for moving out of Kanyal settlement of Karkala range in the forests where his ancestors have lived. Education for his daughter. The girl Shwetha is now going to a college nearby to study for BBM.

For sturdy Babu, the erstwhile Malekudiya tribal chief in Kuriyadi settlement of Belthangadi range, the move out in 2014 was perfectly timed, as he got good land at good rate and with good source of water.  The Rs 70 lakh compensation for his six-acre holdings helped him buy land and house for Rs 35 lakh. Happily, three of his daughters got married since and one is soon going to. He beams as he announces that, sickle in hand, just back from his plantation.

A shamiana has been set up in front of the sprawling house for the event. Four more daughters are in line for matrimony, while three of his sons are pursuing labour work, having fared poorly at school. One son works as a storekeeper for the gram panchayat.

Unlike others who moved out, and have some or the other complaint — ‘get our children jobs’, ‘water is scarce’, ‘here we cannot encroach on the land around’, ‘all our siblings are now distributed and far away’, so on — Babu is one happy man with no complaints.

 

Babu offering a tender coconut in front of his new house © Manish Machaiah

But things are not so easy for everyone. Often the search for good land that is not costly becomes a problem as also availability of water. When everything is fine, there is the problem with documents. Where the documents are intact and there are no family disputes over ownership, there is the long time the process of valuation takes place. For that, here’s a flashback.

National park

Kudremukh National Park in Karnataka covers over 600 sq kms of rainforests with natural grassland and shola forests spread over three districts–Dakshin Kannada, Udupi and Chikmagalur. This part of the Western Ghats also gives birth to the three rivers Thunga, Bhadra and Netravathi. It is home to the endangered lion tailed macaque, besides tigers, leopards, gaurs and elephants.

The park had a little over 800 families living in various remote and isolated parts of the forest.

 

Sholas of Kudremukh © Manish Machaiah

It was WCS that first gave the impetus to relocation in 2003 in the Bhagavathi settlement inside Kudremukh National Park, through which eight families were successfully relocated. With around 400 cattle heads supplying milk to the mining township, there was clear competition with wildlife for fodder and grass. The buy-out by WCS freed up huge tracts of the landscape and prevented fragmentation of habitat.

In 2005, the state government passed an order for voluntary relocation from Kudremukh and took upon itself the task of entirely funding the resettlement.

During declaration of Kudremukh as a National Park, the revenue areas inside the park continued as revenue land. People living there hence have legal rights to the land they have settled on.

Package running into crores

Unlike in other places where those seeking to move out are paid a flat Rs 10 lakh for every beneficiary in the family as per MoEF norms, here the payment is based on land and crop value. Manu George from Kuthlur settlement in Belthangadi range got Rs 2.85 crores for his 13 acres of land.

Since 2005, almost 230 families who applied to the government for voluntary relocation have been resettled outside the park at a total cost of Rs 68 crores so far.

The WCS India Program has meanwhile helped relocate 62 families or 262 people so far, at a cost of Rs 4.25 crores. The organisation is involved in private funded land consolidation program in Protected Areas of Western Ghats, wherein the families hand over their rights on land to the forest department, for which WCS compensates as per the government package. It works to complement the effort of the Government to consolidate wildlife habitat.

“The relocation is going on well, though a little bit of speeding up would help. But unfortunately, the land and crop evaluation is taking unduly long time, and that is because it requires coordination by so many departments involved,” says Deputy Conservator of Forests, Ganesh Bhat.

The land and crop evaluation calls for the PWD, horticulture department, agriculture, revenue department, etc to fix a commonly suitable time and visit the properties.

WCS Assistant Director, Conservation Operations, P M Muthanna too agrees. “The work of valuing the land and crop of applicants is an additional work without any additional budget allocation and support. Officers from the various departments are overburdened with existing workloads and this will be their last priority. The ambition and good intention of the Government to provide relocation to willing families is defeated due to such minor issues.”

Ideally, it would have been good to complete it in five years but this may take longer, says the DCF. More than 300 applications have been received by the department. That would still leave an equal number or more still residing within the park, he notes.

The long wait
Many are waiting for land value to go up, while many have issues with missing ownership titles or family disputes. For instance, the case of Girija from Hendelu settlement in Karkala range of the park was fraught with family disputes and missing documents, says WCS India Program staff Ramchandra Bhat. Sons and daughters who had already moved out after taking their share came back claiming for a share of the compensation amount Rs 35 lakh. Bitter disputes, a suicide later, Girija was able to move out to the new place with her unmarried daughter. She acknowledges all the hand-holding by Bhat that helped them. (WCS India Program staff help families willing to relocate procure Aadhar card and ownership titles besides helping with other procedures.)

 

Girija with her daughter in the new place © Manish Machaiah

Sometimes hand-holding by WCS India Program staff takes on an entirely new dimension too, as in the case of one couple whose marriage was on the point of breaking up, and it fell upon field staff Dharanappa to help patch up things!

Recounting complicated cases, Bhat points to the case of Sharada of the Mapalu settlement. Having been settled on the land by a previous owner for whom she worked, she had no documents to the land. It required some talking and cajoling the present owner to part with a small amount of his compensation amount. The last of the eight families in this settlement are well on their way out, with one winning Rs 2.8 crores as compensation.

There can be no adequate emphasizing the importance of voluntary relocation of people from inside Protected Areas. Not only does it free the wild spaces for the animals to move unhindered, and help control unsustainable harvesting of forest produce (as one Malekudiya in Kudremukh observed, some of the medicinal herbs have been commercially exploited to the point that they are no more available) but for the people living in isolated regions of the forest, it comes as a welcome move.

In Kudremukh too, besides the crop loss to wild pigs, etc inside the forest, the access to health and education facilities as also availability of electricity, played a big role in many families seeking relocation. In her new home, at Bidregoddu, Latha, wife of Sudhakar Shetty is seated in front of her television set, with the volume turned on high, watching a Kannada soap she now follows keenly. Life has changed.

Written by Jayalakshmi K

 

6 days, 15 hours ago 0
Posted in: Blog

Narrated by Mrunal Ghosalkar

When Shinde turned on the pipe for supplying water through an abandoned, dusty culvert – he expected a free-flowing stream to provide some water to irrigate his fields. What he did not anticipate was the yelps of two young jackal cubs startled at the sudden flux of water. He jumped to shut the water supply, lifted out the meek cubs, and carried them home. “Their mother was nowhere to be seen, and they would have died in the ditch alone, so I decided to take them home,” he reasoned.

 

The rescued jackal pups © Mrunal Ghosalkar

Early that evening, Shinde then called officials from the Nashik Forest Department, and the seemingly abandoned jackal pups were picked up by Forest Guard Teknar and Van Mazdoor (permanent daily wage earner) and Sheikh of the Nashik Forest Department, who nursed and fed the cubs.

By nightfall, however, the very worried family arrived at the Forest Department office once again. They recounted that they could hear an increasingly agitated jackal mother sending out loud, piercing calls near their house, in search of her pups. “We would like to take the cubs back to our house and leave them at the same place. That way, their mother can come find them and they can be reunited,” they earnestly suggested.  “आम्हाला ती कोल्ह्याची पिल्ले परत द्या. त्यांना आम्ही परत त्याच जागी ठेवतो. कारण त्यांची आई सारखी सारखी येतेय आणि जोरजोरात गागतेय.”

The Villagers then took the pups back to the spot where they had picked them from and left them there. The next day there was no sign of the pups or the mother.

 

The villager who rescued the jackal pups with staff of Nashik Forest Department © Mrunal Ghosalkar

This story of tolerance and care towards wild animals comes from Chittegaon village of the Niphad Taluka in Nashik district that lies towards Western Maharashtra. Niphad is a largely agricultural district, and being on the banks of the Godavari River, has extremely fertile land.

These landscapes were arid zones until a few decades ago, but the construction of dams on major rivers drastically altered the landscape, with irrigation bringing a regular water supply to previously dry areas. The landscape has thus changed from dryland to permanently irrigated agriculture, with cash crops such as sugarcane flourishing in the area. This change has made agricultural areas a good refuge for species like leopards as well as hyenas, wolves and jackals.

 

The rescued jackal pup © Mrunal Ghosalkar

The above narration may be that of a minor incident, but such an attitude of tolerance and acceptance of wildlife is characteristic of this landscape. With the high densities of human populations that exist, interactions between people and wildlife are frequent. However, despite human-wildlife interactions sometimes causing losses to humans, it is observed that people here are very accepting of the presence of wildlife.

WCS India Program Awareness Cordinator, Mrunal Ghosalkar has been working in collaboration with the Nashik Forest Department on educating communities about sharing spaces with wildlife, especially carnivores. She reports that people here are generally very accepting of wildlife presence, even if it causes them some loss.

“People in this landscape know about the presence of carnivores even if there is no dense forest area. If we sensitize people with the necessary knowledge then human-wildlife interactions and fear can be minimized and eventually, an understanding of this complex issue can be increased amongst the people. In this case, villagers could relate the situation with simple human relations (the bond between a mother and child) and initiated a reunion of jackal mother and her pups. In any conservation initiative, engagement of local people plays a vital role.” she says.

Clearly, rural India has lessons in peaceful coexistence of humans and wildlife.

 

 

1 week, 2 days ago 0
Posted in: Blog

Written by Priyadarshini

Wild Seve, a novel initiative set up to speed up and ensure compensation reaches the affected families, is helping bring some amount of harmony amidst human wildlife conflicts.

Chennegowda leads the way through a narrow, labyrinthine path that winds and curls past little houses with gardens and backyards. Every time it looks as though you have reached the destination, the path veers capriciously to the left or right, opening up more homes, more gardens and backyards.  The houses are neat, with small verandahs, and discreetly fenced in by cane overgrown with creepers.  Chickens slip in and out of the foliage.  Young trees planted along the path form lush green arbors above.  Chennegowda’s village of Thimmanahosahally is unlike any. It is also inside the Nagarahole National Park.

Soon we reach Chennegowda’s house.  He climbs a ladder and takes off a blue tarpaulin covering a portion of the roof to reveal a gaping hole. The reason? A tusker. Although there have been incidents of crop and property damage in the settlements nearby (and there are a few in this area), this is the first case of property damage by elephants, he says. He has been referred to Wild Seve by the forest department.

 

A young boy wheels a tyre through the narrow lanes of Thimmanahosahally © Priyadarshini/CWS

A toll free helpline
Wild Seve was set up in 2015 pursuant to research led by Dr. Krithi Karanth around multiple reserves in India which revealed that while majority families living around the parks encountered conflict situations, less than one-third filed and received compensation from the government. Compensation for loss or damage by wildlife, including injury to person or death, is offered by many state governments including Karnataka as an immediate measure of conflict mitigation. Wild Seve assists the affected families by responding to their calls (which are directed to a toll free helpline) within 24 hours and supporting them through the entire process of applying for and seeking compensation. This includes documenting the damage, verifying claims and claimant’s ownership of the property or land in question, and filing the claims with the forest department. Consequently, Wild Seve also ends up rendering support to an often under-staffed forest department that is unable to address the number of claims or the minutiae of the process.

Trained field agents, picked mostly from the villages themselves, provide the assistance. They also, once the claim is filed, diligently follow up with the government till the compensation is actually received by the families. Wild Seve currently supports hundreds of villages around Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks. Given the project’s success – it has answered over 9000 calls, and assisted more than 5000 families in availing over a crore in compensation till date – it may serve as a model for other parks and reserves too.

For the love of jackfruit
Chennegowda narrates the incident behind the hole in his roof while we wait for the department’s representative. Recently, a rule was introduced requiring a forest official’s presence in the photographic evidence of loss or damage. Wild Seve staff keeps track of all such rules which vary and change from range to range. This considerably reduces the time taken to file claims and thereby, the transaction and opportunity costs for affected families.

 

The damaged roof of Chennegowda’s house © Priyadarshini/CWS

The previous night, Chennegowda woke up to noises and climbed the roof to locate its source. He spied an elephant feasting on jackfruit in his neighbour’s field a few metres away. Soon, his neighbor woke too and gave chase to the animal. The elephant made a beeline to the forest behind Chennegowda’s property but just as it lumbered past his house, a dog barked. A visibly shaken Chennegowda is unclear on the subsequent events except that he somehow found himself, with three terrified daughters, inside the very room whose roof was being dispensed with by the elephant. Curiously, it also left behind a rather large jackfruit among the rubble on the ground.

More puzzling were the two elephants that entered Veluswamy’s fields several kilometers away in the village of Bankahally near the Bandipur National Park. By the time they were discovered, there was no sign of the one quintal ripe jackfruit he claims his trees sported. Unlike scenes of damage like Chennegowda’s roof, this job was elegantly carried out and there was not a single trace of the fruit! You could be forgiven for asking if there had been any elephants at all. Or any jackfruits for that matter!  In fact, situations do arise where the Wild Seve staff find themselves calling out dubious claims.

Veluswamy is unfazed when questioned. Two years ago, he woke up in the middle of the night and opened his front door, only to confront a rather large trunk sniffing surreptitiously through bags of jackfruit peel he had stowed away in his porch to feed the cows. Elephants love jackfruit, he asserts, sagely. Indeed, the elephant’s love for jackfruit is legendary. So much so, it was reported that planters in Coorg district of Karnataka had dumped their entire harvest to prevent the giants with the sweet tooth from entering their plantations. More recently, the forest department in Tamil Nadu had requested residents and shop-keepers in the forest fringes to stop storing or selling the fruit.

 

The elephants did a far less elegant job with Veluswamy’s mango trees. He claims a loss of 2 quintals of mangoes © Ghanshyam/CWS

From conflict to compensation to co-existence
Veluswamy has approached Wild Seve for 8 cases of crop loss and property damage, and has received compensation of Rs. 1620 in one case so far. He has suffered repeated losses in the past, mainly from wild pigs and elephants. He even abandoned beekeeping after a hungry bear dispatched 20 of his 24 beehive boxes. He finds Wild Seve helpful, especially the promptness with which calls are answered.  He also says the process was unpredictable before; not every claim resulted in compensation as the forest department was “not strict”.  His neighbours Rajendra and Srinivas chime in adding that often, compensation was sanctioned on the basis of a broad estimation across several claims and thus, had nothing to do with actual damage.

Claimants therefore received less than deserved amounts or undeserved claims slipped through. Also, sometimes, compensation depended on relationship with the department, they say. With Wild Seve, there is accountability as a claim is registered every time an RTC is produced, says Veluswamy.

However, the efforts of the forest department in dealing with human wildlife conflicts is visible throughout the landscape as also in their cooperation with the staff of Wild Seve.

 

The river Kabini forms a lifeline for the villages including Thimmanahosahally. The forest is clearly visible in this picture, right behind the coconut plantation © Priyadarshini/CWS

Living in and around national parks and wildlife reserves entails sharing space and resources with wildlife. Chennegowda’s mother remembers the deer, wild pigs, elephants and other animals that have visited her home over the years. It is a hard life. The animals fed on the ragi, jowar, paddy and vegetables they grew, often leaving little for their family. That, coupled with declining rainfall in recent years has forced Chennegowda to confine himself to paddy and work in nearby Kerala as a daily wage labourer during non-farming season for survival.

For Veluswamy, switching to commercial crops like banana and jackfruit from ragi and jowar has meant greater cost from such conflicts. You grow and nurture these trees for ten or twelve years and the elephants don’t even take an hour to destroy them, he exclaims, upset. Yet, he asserts – we don’t want to kill them; we only want such incidents to be prevented.

Compensation offers at least a partial relief to families like Chennegowda’s and Veluswamy’s. Wild Seve bridges the gap between such affected families and an overwhelmed department to ensure compensation is received by the families. And in doing so, Wild Seve enables humans and wildlife to coexist in relative harmony despite the inevitable conflicts.

 

1 week, 5 days ago 0
Posted in: Blog

A unique relocation package in Kudremukh National Park came with its own set of challenges.

His teeth all stained with the constant chewing of betel leaf and areca nut, hair grey at a relatively young age, and a vast amount of information that he displays as he talks, the 40-something Sudhakar Shetty from the Kerekatte enclosure in Kudremukh National Park is one person who will give you different reasons for moving out of the park.

 

Sudhakar Shetty in his new house © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

Besides the usual compulsions cited by most people — of poor access to basic health and education amenities, and the losses to crops from wildlife, Shetty says loud and clear: “It is good for the environment and wildlife that we move out.”

And he means it. Shetty is one of the beneficiaries of the unique relocation programme in Kudremukh, who is now an advocate of the programme and is actively involved in motivating and helping people move out.

In gratitude, he calls the WCS India Program staff Dharanappa, who helped him with the relocation to his new place, as “my brother”.

Shetty who owned 2.5 acres in Kerekatte growing paddy, areca nut and pepper was paid Rs 78 lakhs by the government, part of which he used to buy 3.1 acres at  Bidregodu, Thirthahalli Taluk, Shivamoga District.

 

Sudhakar Shetty’s new house in Bidregodu, Thirthahalli Taluk, Shivamoga District © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

A progressive farmer, he can give you solid arguments on why it is not profitable to grow paddy in the wetlands  of Western Ghats that receive heavy rainfall. For one, the heavy rains will wash away any fertilisers used. Farmers will spend Rs 15,000 an acre per crop  and make about Rs 8,000, he adds. That is the reason he has stopped cultivating paddy.  He now has  pepper, areca nut and coffee on his land. There is monkey menace, he agrees but shrugs it off as a lesser evil.

Today, he buys “Israel manure” for his areca nut crop from a firm in Sagara. He has no idea what it is but has seen it help on a neighbouring farmer’s land.

Known to be politically connected, though he disclaims any interest in politics, Shetty knows to talk. He will tell you that what is required today are not loan waivers for all farmers or subsidies across the board, but ways in which to make agriculture profitable. Get us the processing units and storage units. Waive loans only for small farmers, he says.

Part of a farming community settled in the forests during the Grow More Food campaign of the 50s, his family has been living within the national park for the last seven decades. A brother and sister are still among the 400 families living in Kerekatte enclosure.

The Kudremukh relocation package is unique in many ways. It is completely funded by the state government, and beneficiaries are paid amounts according to the valuation of the land they hold, the standing crop, permanent structures such as house, cattle sheds etc. Some have even been paid up to Rs 1 crore.  Most of the residents in the park have legal title over their property.  There are examples of families approaching the Karnataka High Court seeking directions to the government to sanction relocation benefit.

 

Abandoned house inside Kudremukh National Park © Manish Machaiah/WCS India

The relocation also had its unique set of challenges for the government and NGOs like WCS, working to secure better lives for people and wildlife. For one, there was the naxal (Maoist)  problem with the group demanding de-notification of Kudremukh National Park and opposing relocation of families from the area. Then there was the problem of rumours and speculations, especially against WCS which took up few cases of relocation as part of private  funded land purchase of land. From being accused of making commissions and called as government agents  the staff had to face many challenges. Media and politics played each other in the initial years when there was talk of declaring the park as a tiger reserve.

Often, village heads would make the decision for all families. Even if a family wanted to move out, this would be prevented.

Added to all that were the issues of land ownership. The documents are still in the name of deceased grandparents, partition deeds are missing, and so on. Family members who had moved out of the land with their shares would come back demanding a share of the compensation amount. This is resisted by those who had stayed and struggled on the land.

Helping the applicants get an Aadhar card — a must for relocation — to procuring ownership documents, the WCS India Program staff duo Ramchandra Bhat and Dharanappa M, supports the families who seek help. In the process they have had their bit of run-ins with the naxals. During November 2013,  Ramachandra  Bhat was threatened by the group and had his vehicles set afire at midnight in front of his house.

Today, with the air all cleared, there is no more need to go talk and convince the people anymore, says Bhat. Now families willing to relocate call us and come to us, he says, and in most cases it is about missing documents, or to help with the application.

According to P M Muthanna, Assistant Director, Conservation with WCS, things are going well in the Kudremukh relocation. “Even if 25 families can be moved out every year, it is good enough,” he says.

In some cases of encroachment or missing documents, WCS has been stepping in with private funds, as government money is not available for these cases.

 

Sholas of Kudremukh National Park © Kiran Yadav/WCS India

There were around 800 families living in the park. Around 230 have moved out since March 2010, when 12 families from the Belthangady range got their cheques from the government. The rest are stuck due to various reasons – lack of funding from the government, missing documents, family disputes,  delay in valuation process, frequent transfer of officers, etc. Finding suitable property outside the Kudremukh park to relocate is also delaying the movement of families, says Dharanappa. Some are also biding time to see when the land and crop value will escalate, bringing them a higher package.

As the worldly-wise Shetty quips philosophically, “That’s human nature, whether it be in cities or villages, we always want more!”

Written by Jayalakshmi K

 

2 weeks, 5 days ago 1
Posted in: Blog

On World Environment Day, can we pause a bit to explore ways in which natural habitats can be conserved without negative impacts on any species?

Cheetal herd in Ammavayal land after the people moved out. ©Arul Badusha

Vast stretches of fallow land, deep in the forest, where paddy was once grown, have now turned pastures for cheetal, sambar and few wild pig. Congregating in large numbers they bask in the evening sun. It has been four years since the humans left this stretch of the forest in Ammavayal and Golur that are part of Kurichiat range of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala.

In the neighbouring state, a similar story was witnessed back in 2010. Forty-three families belonging to a tribal community had sought to be relocated from Murkal in the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka. Within just two days of the people leaving, the wildlife swung into action. Bears were seen frolicking with cubs, as also tiger and leopard in the place just vacated by humans.

 

Dhole pack seen in Madla, Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, after 199 families residing there moved out ©Mrunmayee Amarnath

And from there, further north to the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, now the model for voluntary relocation of people from forests, the wilderness reclaimed its lost terrain and slowly the animals followed. Around 463 families from 13 villages and over 4000 livestock moved out between 2001 October and 2003, leaving over 49 sq kms of forest inviolate.

In an excellent example of how protection of a landscape helps it flourish, in Bhadra the excellent protection provided by the forest department, along with a control on the grazing and fires, went a long way in aiding the process.

An enclosure in Kudremukh Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhagawathi, had eight families with over 450 cattle head in all, living in the forest. In a program fully funded by WCS India during 2003, the families opted for relocation. An image here shows the re-entry of wildlife into the region. © Niren Jain

In what is a win-win scenario for wildlife and people, humans have reaped many benefits from relocation.

Not only are the livestock kill by carnivores averted, but crop losses from elephant movement become a thing of the past. Daily visits into the forest, looking for firewood and the inherent danger from encountering wildlife, are prevented, with gas connections being secured in many cases. Health too has improved in the process as smoke is not inhaled.

All relocation schemes, initiated since the MoEF first proposed it in 1999, are voluntary by nature. In the case of Wayanad, it was funded by the MoEF & CC while the state government provides additional benefits.

Take Karupi of the Paniya tribe, resettled from Kurichiyat forest in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Twirling a plant fibre into a roll and fitting it into the yawning hole pierced in her ear lobe, the 70-plus woman affirms that she and family are happy to be away from the forest where elephant trouble and tiger fear ruled their lives.

Karupi of the Paniya tribe in front of her new house ©Manish Machaiah

Relocated in 2014 as part of the voluntary relocation program (Integrated development of wildlife habitat scheme of the central government), Karupi, her daughter and three sons have done well for themselves with a house each to their names.

The compensation paid is Rs 10 lakh for every male member over 18 years, for unmarried women over 18, and for widows and orphans, while handicapped are counted in, irrespective of age. Additional benefits from the state tribal department include housing, etc. The family now lives on the ration rice they get. Labor work in nearby fields provides a source of livelihood to male and female folk.

For Kaatunayaka tribeswoman Sujatha and family too, the move from Kurichiyat has been good. Need for firewood has been replaced after the forest department provided the gas connection. The family has an auto rickshaw used to earn a living.

Many like Aneesh and Raghavan belonging to the Chetty community are doing well too after the relocation. Crops like paddy, ginger and banana are grown in the land allotted to them. Children go to school without fear of wild animals; and the family has access to healthcare.

Besides tribes like Kaatunayakas, Paniyas, and Mullukurmas, many non-tribal families have been living in the forests in Kerala. Given land on lease by the government back in the 60s as part of the Grow More Food campaign, and in some places title deeds too, these people have been growing paddy, ginger, areca nut, banana, pepper, etc deep in the forest core.

Krishnan from Arakunchi (Bathery range) is thankful for the move out. “It would take two hours daily for me to escort my two children to the forest periphery from where they took bus to school. Today, one is a nurse and the other an engineer,” he says proudly.

Chettiyalathoor landscape where over 220 families eagerly await relocation. ©Manish Machaiah

Meanwhile, in the Chettiyalathoor settlement in Muthanga range, over 220 families eagerly await funds so they can move out. Except for a handful of households, everyone is desperate to leave. Elephant visits and the long commute to the nearest village are the big problems here.

A wildlife sanctuary that boasts a diverse landscape covering moist mixed deciduous, semi-evergreen to dry mixed deciduous, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, formed in 1973 and placed under Project Elephant, has around 110 settlements with 2,612 households and an approximate population of 12,000 living in the forest. This is also the home of elephants, tigers, gaur, cheetal, sambar, civets, dhole, leopards, etc.

While forests are claimed to make up 20% of the total geographical area in India, the protected areas hardly comprise 5%. This is the space we have for our wildlife and its natural habitat.

Humans, who have been on the planet for a mere 0.000014th fraction of time since the Universe began, or a mere 1/20000th fraction (0.00005) since the home planet first formed, have been instrumental, during the last 100 years, in causing the decline of 83% of all wild mammals. The figures based on weightage as calculated by carbon biomass (courtesy NASA and the UN) say that almost 60% of all mammals on Earth today are livestock, while humans comprise 36% and wildlife a 4 %.

Village in Bhagawathi, Kudremukh National Park before relocation. ©Niren Jain

Where wildlife numbers have been on the decline, in nine years we, in India, have added 133 million to the human population. At 1283 m we make up 18 percent of the world population. Land has not multiplied but on the other hand, being lost to various reasons.

Almost 38% of the global geographical area is cultivated, but not enough. By 2050 another 120 million hectares of natural habitat will be converted, even as 12 million ha of land has been lost to desertification owing to unsustainable farming practices.

On the one hand is the concern over ‘raiding’ elephants and ‘mauling’ tigers and loss of property and human lives from wildlife – in India, this amounts to one human life every day as per environment ministry figures.

On the other side is the oft-unspoken tale of shrinking wildlife habitats. Ministry figures tell us the country has lost more than 4,500 million hectares of forest land since 1947. These have been taken up for farming, dams, industries, townships, encroachments and roads.

Elephant ambling through a tea estate ©Varun R Goswami/Divya Vasudev

Loss and degradation of wildlife habitats and disturbances in wildlife corridors are increasingly seeing wild animals stepping out from forests. And venturing into tea estates, busy highways, farmlands and even factories (recently a tiger had adopted an abandoned rubber factory in Bareilly, only to end up with injuries on its legs from the rusted metals and rods lying around).

‘Raiding’ elephants then get electrocuted by fences carrying higher than permitted electricity, ‘jaywalking’ cheetal and civet cats get knocked down on the highways, while ‘mauling’ leopards are beaten up and even set afire by mobs for ‘straying’ into human habitations. These are the refugees of an environmental war. They are losing their homes. Happy Environment Day?

Do we care enough to set the picture right? To recognize that the planet belongs to all species, and stop this wanton destruction of their (and our) environment.

Written by Jayalakshmi K

 

3 weeks, 2 days ago 1
Posted in: Blog

Written by Meghana Sanka

 

Fallow land in Koppal, North Karnataka ©Meghana Sanka

Yellowing grass lines the roads, extending into the horizon, and far away a curious face appears – one blackbuck, joined by others, looks up to see why we are visiting them. Assured we mean no harm, they resume their jumping.

These grasslands often categorized as “wastelands”, are home to a wide number of species; both herbivores and carnivores. Blackbucks, striped hyenas, sloth bears, leopards, civet cats, rusty spotted cats, jungle cats, foxes and wolves thrive in this environment.

Koppal, a district in Karnataka, is home to grasslands known as Yeri, where the plains and the black cotton soil provide an excellent opportunity for agriculture. Apart from the black soil, Koppal has another unique landscape, of red soil, called Masari by the locals. Masari is dotted with rocky outcrops and these are used as hideouts and dens by most of the carnivores. The river Tungabhadra that flows in the South, alongside the remains of the Vijayanagara empire, is home to otters and crocodiles.

Despite Koppal district in Karnataka not having a national park or sanctuary, it has diverse landscapes and is home to some of the most endangered and elusive wildlife species of India.

Camera-trap image of a Hyena ©Deccan Conservation Foundation & Karnataka Forest Department

Shepherding and farming are the main occupations of the people of the land. Nomadic pastoralists have been grazing these lands for centuries, following a rotational grazing system that takes advantage of the seasonally available resources.

Farming happens in both, the Yeri and the Masari landscapes. Due to the arid landscape and the soaring temperatures, the soil is rested in the summers and agriculture is generally practised in these months.

The land use pattern has been changing gradually and with the advent of better irrigation facilities and borewells, the percentage of fallow lands is gradually decreasing, resulting in blackbucks mostly being spotted in agricultural areas now. There was a time when blackbucks and chinkaras were abundant in the area, but an increase in farming and unregulated poaching have made the sightings of blackbucks rare while chinkaras have completely disappeared.

The interesting thing about the landscape is that the wolves, the apex predators of the area are not just dependant on the wild herbivores but also feed on the sheep and goats. One may think that  carnivores hunt sheep and goats when there is a dearth of natural prey, but this is surely not the case with wolves. They have  been taking sheep and goats from centuries, even when there was abundant prey and Koppal is not exception.

Camera-trap image of a leopard ©Deccan Conservation Foundation & Karnataka Forest Department

While every shepherd loses a few sheep a year to the wolves, some of them consider it as a blessing and believe this helps their herd grow, while others quote the wolves as “Saudar maama”, meaning maternal uncle. It is interesting to know that some people still exhibit a culture of tolerance towards the animal and are hence able to  co-exist.

Coming to the rocky outcrops, about 80% of them are classified as reserve forest, and hence have been protected and not subjected to quarrying or the carnivores would have entirely disappeared from this region.

“Since people and animals share space with each other, and wildlife feeds on agricultural produce and livestock, declaring it a protected area may create a conflict situation since the animals are going to enter the human-use areas in this prey depleted landscape,” says Iravatee Majgaonkar, scientist at WCS India who is collaborating with Deccan Conservation Foundation, and researching on the wolves in the area for the past one and half year. She adds, “If we want to conserve these shared spaces, providing an incentive to the people here to protect and conserve the wildlife would ideally be the first step. This requires novel techniques and schemes which unfortunately make a weak case in the face of economic development.The second thing that needs to be taken care of is the poaching and hunting of blackbucks. With no regulation in place, the blackbucks have been gradually disappearing.”

The vast grasslands of Serengiti or the laplands of Sweden and Norway aren’t categorized as wastelands.Then why do we, in India, consider grasslands as non-productive land?

Unless an area is seen as agriculturally productive, or is densely covered by trees, the lands get categorised under ‘wastelands’. In a bid to make these lands “productive”, trees are planted, or these lands leased out to industries and institutions.

The need of the hour is to recognize the grasslands and the rocky outcrops for the ecological potential they have, the biodiversity they harbour and also understand that wildlife conservation in such places needs to be inclusive of people.

With time, the sightings of both carnivores and herbivores at Koppal have gradually reduced.If the current pattern continues, there may be a day when the area will be devoid of wildlife. Koppal, along with other grassland areas, needs to be brought under the conservation lens soon but with utmost care by not losing sight of people’s rights.

 

3 weeks, 5 days ago 3
Posted in: Blog

From close encounters with wildlife, the writer comes to realise some hard truths and mistaken notions about the animals.

Written by Mrunmayee Amarnath

Mrunmayee at the start of a line transect walk

My door to ‘Narnia’ opened with the ‘Line transects’ I took part in. Besides the exciting encounters with wildlife, they carry me to an enchanting world where every blade of grass, plant, tree and animal speaks to each other. I watch in rapture, understanding a bit of it but unfamiliar with most of the goings on. The timeline in my world stops when I start my walk into the world of animals and it starts when I finish.

My first line transect experience in Bhadra during 2009, when I narrowly missed an encounter with a leopard, kept me going back to the jungles for another chance. It was few years later at Bandipur that I experienced an unforgettable close encounter with a tiger. From then to my eleventh line transect this summer at Wayanad, the annual survey has become an inalienable part of my life.

I have religiously participated in line transect surveys of WCS in the last 10 years and every step during these walks in the dense forests has been a new experience and learning. The animals apart, the very chance to be in pristine surroundings opens up a new world.

Going back to the Bandipur experience in 2012, I recall the excitement that had built in me, despite little support from family. While I had started walking line transects in Bhadra Tiger Reserve since 2009, I had heard many stories about encounters with tigers and elephants during line transects in Bandipur.

Line transects of WCS are very well organized and are highly disciplined with strict camp rules. Participants usually stay in anti-poaching camps of forest department with basic amenities and get a firsthand experience of lives led by guards and watchers of Forest Department.

I started my first line walk of the year in the evening. Transect lines are 3.2 km in length and walked by a team of two to collect tiger prey data for various scientific analysis. Lines are walked twice a day and teams are decided by the camp in-charge and announced before we leave the camp.

I was fortunate to team up with Killivalavan Rayar, one of the finest researchers and field ecologists of WCS. We started the line on time and closed it, with a few sightings of prey animals on the line and lot of learning from Killi. On our way back to camp while driving, I remember wondering when I would come across a tiger. I had never seen them in the wild until then.

Surprisingly, the very next moment I saw a tiger running away from the road. It took few minutes for the joy to sink in and then I realized that there was another tiger, much bigger in size, which was looking at us. This one seemed very sleepy and with great difficulty opened its eyes to look at us. It was so amazing. We watched it for about 45 minutes at a stretch. Both the tigers were just 50 meters away from us. I silently watched the animal as Killi clicked some pictures. We finally had to leave as it was time to pick teams from other lines. I realized how the mistakenly perceived ‘dangerous’ animals can relax and trust humans, once assured there is no danger!

Tiger resting in the forest ©Ng Bishwanath Singh

I continued the rest of my week in Bandipur waiting to see some elephants on the line. And did they oblige! I recall the fear when a tusker gave a loud trumpet call from very close to the jeep, waking me from my part slumber as we drove towards the morning line.

The week was filled with many more interesting sightings. Everything, including seeing a jungle cat stalk its prey, peacock with opened feathers, two big-built Gaurs fighting it out, was special. But the best was yet to come.

On my last day, I was dropped at the starting point for my morning line walk. My team mate and I were waiting on the forest road for the morning light to start our line walk. The forest was silent and dark. We heard a tiger calling continuously from afar. After a couple of minutes, we heard a response from another tiger. It was loud and we were clear that it came from somewhere very close to us. We immediately moved away from the road and hid ourselves behind trees, expecting the tiger to cross the road.

There was very little light. I was behind a small tree and saw some movements on the road. There was something coming towards me. As it came closer, I saw the stripes. The tiger was walking towards me without realizing my presence.

Soon it was just about 15 meters away from me. I could now clearly see its stripes and face. It slowly dawned upon me that here was a tiger. I lifted my hand to beckon my team mate. The tiger saw me and stopped in its track.

We looked at each other for a few seconds. My world froze and I did not know what to do. I was in front of a big, powerful animal, weighing 250 to 300 kilos, wrongly perceived to be violent. It could have killed me in just a leap as I stood defenseless. But, instead it chose to turn and run away, perhaps more scared of the human!!

I was spellbound after seeing a tiger for the second time in the same week. It was as if a holy goddess had appeared before me and disappeared even before I realized what had happened. It felt as though the tigers welcomed and bid goodbye to me.

On my return home when I narrated my experience, my parents were happy for me, that I had experienced something they had not in their lifetime. In a telling departure from the norm, they now accompany me in some of my pleasure trips to forests, besides actively encouraging my pursuits.

My love for the forests and wildlife only increased after that experience, planting within me a strong desire to help conserve them.

 

1 month ago 1
Posted in: Blog

MEET OUR STAFF: IMRAN SIDDIQUI

 

Conducting identification of herbivore pellets.

Imran Siddiqui’s journey, from visiting zoos to becoming a wildlife expert, speaks volumes of his one-track dedication and passion.

Perseverance could well be his middle name. Imran Siddiqui’s career chart beginning with selling poultry to raise money for wildlife, to becoming the man instrumental in getting Telangana its first tiger reserve, is one for the best-sellers.

Today, this young man who followed his passion for the forests and its denizens, is a member of the Telangana state wildlife board and on the tiger steering committee. He is also the external expert for tiger monitoring in both the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. He is the founder of the Hyderabad-based Tiger Conservation Society, besides being Assistant Director, Conservation Science at WCS India.

Imran is actively involved in the two states in scientific surveys for prey analysis, occupancy survey for all mammals, etc and also on various state level committees for wildlife conservation, initiating relocation programmes for people living in the forest, capacity building for forest department and influencing policy.

Working closely with the forest department and creating political will towards wildlife conservation is one of the crucial areas he focuses on. Whether it be for declaration of the tiger reserve, increasing area under Protected Areas, or to enforce a ban on hunting, his networking and lobbying worked.

But Imran knows that one can never rest. One of the major challenges he sees in the field is that of policy implementation. “This is most irritating as the policy exists but suffers owing to various reasons. One, we do not have monitoring or grievance panels to oversee things. The mitigation measures are in place but often are not monitored.”

While he does resort to advocacy and has been successful with the five PILs filed, Imran realizes that going to court is not the answer always. That is where one innovates and uses various tactics, he adds.

Thanks to his relentless efforts across five years, relocation programme for Gond and Naikpod tribes has been initiated in Kawal and Amarabad tiger reserves. In the former, around five villages with 230 people have shown interest while a total of 660 out of 1100 people from three villages have sought relocation from Amarabad Tiger Reserve. This was possible after much countering of the misinformation spread by vested interest groups, says Imran, while acknowledging the support of the forest department in the success of conservation programmes. His efforts have also ensured that cattle kill compensations are paid up within ten days.

Imran Siddiqui (left) with Killivalavan Rayar at Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve.

The journey was not easy. In twists that almost took him off the course, Imran was tested quite a few times. But his interest never wavered.

It can all be traced to his visits to the zoo as a nine-year-old. “I would meticulously note down all details displayed on the boards, often not knowing what the words written there meant!”

It was an invitation by IFS officer P Raghuveer to join the tiger census at Eturnagaram that next saw Imran and his brother Asif get their exposure to the wilderness. “Contrary to my expectation of a sanctuary there were no animals at all. I was disappointed and try to meet many NGOs to do some work. No one was serious,” he reminisces. This led to the brothers founding the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society, HyTiCos.

A subsequent visit to the Srisailam Tiger Reserve saw the duo’s attempt to work in the forest discouraged. But a stint during the 2002 tiger census at Kawal proved exciting as Imran sighted the pugmarks of a tigress and her cubs. It was enough of a catalyst for the youngster to resort to raising and selling poultry to make money to pursue his wildlife interest. A course on GIS at the JNTU, Hyderabad helped him find his way into the forest department as a researcher using the technology for wildlife habitat management.

Livelihood pressures saw him sell software to make money, till in 2004 he was taken in by the forest department as a project scientist. In 2004 during a line transect at Tadoba conducted by WCS, he happened to lay hands on the WCS tiger manual and got entrenched deeper in wildlife monitoring “the right way” as he calls it. A “painful” break of four odd years when he worked in Dubai, albeit with frequent trips to forests, helped with the finances but he was back in 2008 when he joined the M.Sc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation course offered by NCBS-WCS.

Imran undertook his dissertation project at Kawal under Dr Ullas Karanth and Dr Samba Kumar where he looked at the potential for tigers based on prey densities. This was followed by another brief stint with Wildlife Trust of India where he was involved in de-snaring with the forest department. This helped build the anti-poaching strike force at Kawal which saw the prey population double in three years.

Then began a period of intense lobbying where he worked with animal lovers and conservationists to revive a Legislative Assembly committee on wildlife and environment. “You need to pay attention to remarks made by a person, follow up on his family and activities to get an idea of the best approach before taking up any contentious issue,” says Imran who succeeded in getting the assembly Speaker Nadendla Manohar to reconstitute the panel.

In 2012, when the Kawal forest was declared a tiger reserve, it was largely owing to his dogged persistence. Not only did he have to work at the political level but also on the ground where lot of misinformation had led to dissent. Fear of eviction following declaration of the park as tiger reserve had caused the tribals to oppose the move. It had taken months of awareness-building to subdue the dissent and assure the political powers that there would be no fears of naxalism. Around this time, Imran joined Wildlife Conservation Society, India.

Today, HyTiCos has a 400-member strong volunteer base, boasts of 60 members and works in over 7,000 sq kms across the two states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. In partnership with WCS India, it has conducted capacity building of over 2000 forest staff, besides taking part in intelligence gathering and advocacy.

To a query on his best moment in the field, Imran has no doubts. “It was in 2015 when we knew for sure that there were a good number of tigers once again in Kawal Tiger Reserve. The next year the sighting of pugmarks of cubs in the corridor areas came as further affirmation.” All this coming after the preceding disastrous years when tiger numbers had dropped drastically, (owing to suspected poaching by tribals fearing eviction) came as a validation of the declaration.

But things are not always positive. He remembers what he calls as one of the worst moments when a waterhole was poisoned killing all the fish and amphibians. Luckily many of the herbivores were not affected. Challenges will be there, but for this conservation scientist routine is what kills. Not challenges, which he is game for.

Written by Jayalakshmi K

1 month ago Comments Off on Sighting a prehistoric animal in the forest
Posted in: Blog

One of our volunteers from our line-transect surveys pens his account of an incredible sighting of the shy, nocturnal Indian Pangolin, which is also one of the most trafficked mammals on the planet.

Written by By Rajaram Vasudevan

Camera-trap photo of a pangolin. © Ullas Karanth/WCS

It was relatively a pleasant morning and a usual drive back to our base camp after the Line Transect Survey conducted by WCS India.

This survey is done to estimate the prey population which is crucial for the survival of predators. As usual, the discussion in the jeep was about the sightings of each other’s line just finished surveying and interesting experiences if we had any.

It was our turn and I casually listed out the sightings of the animals. And then after a few minutes, I said, “Oh yeah, we saw a Pangolin at the start of the line.”

I was taken aback by the kind of reaction from Manish and others in the jeep that clearly indicated that I just had one of the best moments of my life in the wild and not realised it. I had sighted one of the most illegally trafficked and poached mammals of this planet. It wasn’t just a sighting, but rather an experience. Not everyone who has been part of the field projects sights this animal, at least not alive!

Going back to the experience, I was surveying this particular line with Shubham (another volunteer for the line transect camp) and we started walking or rather soaking ourselves in the enormity of flora with the high decibel avian chatters. The line took a turn and I could see a tall ‘crocodile bark’ tree almost in the middle of the path. I paused for a moment looking for the marking but couldn’t see one. I went little ahead and stood just behind the tree, waiting for Shubham to come closer to me.

At that moment, I saw some leaves of a shrub moving on the ground on the right side of the path. As I was in the front I alerted him to stop moving, expecting a Monitor Lizard or a big snake to cross our path.

What really came out struck me for the next few mins. It walked right in front of us and went into a bamboo bush on the left side of the path. Shubham whispered to me saying, “That’s a Pangolin, Anna!” I tried to get a proper look, as I was behind that tree.

For some reason, it turned left and walked towards me and stood still for a few seconds and rolled its eyes (maybe it was surprised too that I didn’t kill it yet!). It had blue eyes or maybe it was the reflection of the sky/flora or a combination of both. It looked absolutely comfortable walking next to me, and then went near Shubham and had a look at him and eventually walked away.

No other experience can parallel the feeling of you being trusted by a wild animal (however big or small the animal is) in the wild. A lot more questions arose in my head about the way we humans have been and continue to live our lives.

Did this impact me? Yes, it did. I learned that more than 20 tonnes of Pangolins and their parts are traded every year as per the research conducted by TRAFFIC, an organisation that monitors illegal wildlife trade.

Also, that we are losing 10,000 Sunda Pangolins every year due to poaching. But still, they manage to thrive in the ever-shrinking habitats across Asia & Africa.

I don’t know if I will be lucky to see this endearing animal again in the wild. My hope is fading away day by day as I am just another so-called ‘wildlife enthusiast’ who hasn’t done anything on the ground to protect or conserve this pre-historic animal which predates human existence on this planet by 72 million years.

 

1 month, 1 week ago Comments Off on Know Your Elephants: Identifying the Giants of Kaziranga
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An Assam Forest Department – WCS India initiative ‘Know Your Elephants’ seeks to create a photographic database of individual elephants in Kaziranga National Park.

Divya Vasudev

Every elephant is distinct. Their facial features, personality, ability to reproduce, tendency to disperse, propensity to raid crops, are different. Just as we subconsciously use facial features to distinguish one person from another, we can, in a more systematic and explicit manner, use morphological features to individually identify wild elephants. Following this approach, Wildlife Conservation Society India Program, in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Forest, Government of Assam, is creating a photographic database of individually identified elephants in the Kaziranga National Park to inform conservation and monitoring.

A male elephant in Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga and its surrounding landscape house arguably the most important population of elephants in Northeast India. ©Varun R Goswami.

Kaziranga National Park, and the landscape surrounding it, arguably holds the most important population of elephants in Northeast India. Along with elephants, Kaziranga also houses tigers in one of the highest densities across their range; a majority of greater one-horned rhinoceros and eastern swamp deer; and a host of other species including the Asiatic water buffalo, hog deer, and many other mammals, migratory and resident birds, and flora. It is no surprise that Kaziranga is precious in the eyes of the people of Assam, nor that it has been recognised as a World Heritage Site.

Kaziranga NP is home to a number of endangered flora and fauna. ©Varun R Goswami.

WCS India and the Assam Forest Department are implementing their collaborative project Know Your Elephants in this important park. Project personnel survey the park extensively obtaining photographs of individual elephants; these photographs contain the critical pieces of information required for tag individual elephants. Dr. Varun Goswami, Project Investigator and Associate Director – Conservation Science, WCS India sheds light on how the identification process is done. “We identify elephants through their tusks, ears and tail. Elephant ears, especially, are telling; their shape, tears, cuts, and folds provide us with almost all the information we need to tell one elephant from another.”

But why identify elephants? At a workshop held on the 14th of May, 2018, at Kohora, Kaziranga, Dr. Goswami succinctly pointed to the insights we get from individual identification which can address challenges to elephant conservation, stating that “identifying elephants allows us to note where they move, which individuals frequent agricultural fields, and track population demography through time”.

Individual identification, in combination with the now globally-established capture–recapture modelling approach, can also provide reliable estimates of elephant numbers, which take into account both animals encountered, and animals missed.

Dr. Varun Goswami, elephant expert, points to how the shape and form of elephant ears can be used for individual identification of elephants (above). Distinctive tears on elephant ears too can help in tagging individuals sighted at different locations (below). ©Pragyan Sharma/WCS India and Varun R Goswami/WCS India

Kaziranga has its own particular conservation challenges. Every year, large parts of the park are inundated by the monsoon-fed Brahmaputra River. In 2017, about 85% of the park lay under water following heavy showers. This seasonal flooding is what fuels the rich biodiversity of this World Heritage Site. But it also means that animals need to move out of the park, across a heavily populated swath of land, to reach highlands to the south of the park. This yearly journey is risky, and information on how elephants fare will be valuable to conservation in the region.

Being able to track individual elephants could provide us with information on their movement routes — familiar paths that elephants pass on from generation to generation, as well as new routes forged in a changing landscape — which could aid in efforts to ensure their safety from human-induced pressures during this stressful season.

Elephants moving through paddy fields in this rich floodplain also leads to conflict with people. Managing such conflict is critical for conservationists and park managers and being able to identify elephants that are more prone to risky crop-raiding behaviour can aid in our response to conflict situations.

Elephants in Kaziranga National Park. ©Varun R Goswami/WCS India

At the workshop held in Kaziranga, Shri Rohini B. Saikia, IFS, Divisional Forest Officer, Eastern Wildlife Division, Assam (Kaziranga NP) emphasized the importance of forest guards and frontline staff knowing the concepts and benefits of the project. Shri. Rabindra Sharma, Research Officer, Kaziranga NP, also added to this requirement, by aligning local descriptors of elephants to the categories used as part of the project. “The project will help in assisting the park managers to identify and monitor the elephants of the park,” Shri. Saikia said. “It will also help to mitigate man–elephant conflict in the adjoining areas.”

The workshop was also attended by Assistant Conservator of Forests, Range Forest Officers and forest guards of Kaziranga, as well as WCS India staff and other interested elephant conservationists.

WCS India staff interacted with workshop participants. Parvathi Prasad explained protocols used for field data collection and database entry; Dr. Varun Goswami discussed tangible outcomes and benefits of the project; and Binod Gogoi expressed the utility of elephant research and conservation for the people of Kaziranga (clockwise from top left). ©Pragyan Sharma/WCS India

Workshop participants for the Assam FD – WCS India collaborative project on creating a photographic database of individual elephants in Kaziranga NP for conservation and monitoring held at Kohora, Kaziranga, on the 14th of May 2018. ©Pragyan Sharma/WCS India

“Elephants are fascinating animals and have captured our imagination for time immemorial,” Dr. Goswami said. “Identifying individuals can provide us with insights into elephant behaviour and their ability to survive a changing world.” Science-based conservation efforts are critical, he added, to ensure elephant persistence for future generations.