Forum > Any other > Conserving Wildlife in Madhya Pradesh – A Long Journey in Brief.

Posted by Suhas Kumar on January 03, 2019

 

Wildlife conservation in M.P owes a lot to stalwarts like Shri J.J. Dutta, Dr.M.K. Ranjitsinh, Padam Bhushan Shri H.S. Panwar, Shri P.M. Laad, Shri S.B.Lowlekar,. They built up a network of PAs in Madhya Pardesh from scratch and tirelessly strived to manage and protect these areas. There were officers such as Shri A.S. Parihar, Shri S.M. Hasan, Shri R.C. Sharma, Shri Pantane, Shri Dharmvir Kapil, who established a culture of hard work and inculcated the field-craft among the ranks. And then there were some others research minded officers like R.D. Sharma, Shri Jagdish Chandra who added value to our efforts by offering their scientific insights. In later years, conscientious officers like Dr. P.B. Gangopadhyay, Shri A.P. Dwivedi, Dr.H.S Pabla, Shri R.S. Negi and Shri Jitendra Agrawal contributed immensely to strengthen the wildlife wing. . It was indeed an uphill task as there were hardly enough resources to do much. Some names may have been missed out but that may be because of my personal impressions of people and I must say that I might have erred by missing out some of the warriors here.

In 1966 Sh. J.J Dutta was handpicked to undergo a 6 months training in Canada, in Wildlife Conservation and National Park Management. On return from deputation from GoI in 1977, he took charge as the Chief WildLife Warden MP and was entrusted with setting up a whole new discipline in the Forest Department. Staff and finances, motor vehicles etc. were sanctioned but personnel for posts were hard to get. No one was too eager to join a new discipline and they did not know what was expected of them. They had no training of any kind in wildlife conservation (source- Life of a Junglee by J.J. Dutta, 2014).

The Wildlife wing of Madhya Pradesh believed in roping in conservation minded individuals, non-government organizations and scientific institutions and in that process it forged long lasting partnerships. This openness not only brought in technical support but resources in cash and kind that helped us achieve our goals. In the field, too, we had and still have several excellent leaders and soldiers who spearhead new tasks and lead their teams ably. I spent almost 3/4th of my 35 and 1/2 year career working for wildlife in the company of these wonderful people and contributed to the task of protecting and conserving wildlife to the best of my ability in the state as well as Wildlife Institute of India and I am proud of doing so. The establishment of a well equipped Wildlife Health and disease diagnostic and research cell in collaboration with the Veterinary college Jabalpur, creation of 9 fully equipped and trained regional wildlife rescue squads, extension of the development fund (a fund generated out of receipts from tourism) to all PAs, creation of the tiger strike force and later its revamping, creation of a separate budget head for management of wildlife outside PAs and its proper utilization by the territorial, divisions, networking with NGOs like WWF-India and WPSI to curb wildlife crime, resurrecting a almost dead training centre at Tala in Bandhavgah, both in terms of infrastructure and the quality of training, revamping the M.P Tiger Foundation Society, ensuring that the vets brought on deputation to the wildlife wing get the best training and exposure, successful relocation of barasingha, saving tigers from being branded as man-eaters and relocating them to safe habitats, supporting and guiding my field officers on a daily basis were some of the major contributions that I could make to strengthen the wildlife wing.

Some experts believe that till the year 2010, the management of wildlife in Madhya Pradesh was mostly limited to the amelioration of habitat, development of water sources, protection and tourism but that is not the fact. All this while, besides doing our modest bit to protect and manage habitats in protected areas, with the meagre resources available to the wildlife wing, we had painstakingly taken innovative measures and some of those were first in India – The resurrection of hard ground barasingha from the verge of extinction in Kanha tiger reserve and of gharial in Chambal sanctuary were two major success stories of the seventies and eighties. Later, the formation of Madhya Pradesh Tiger Foundation Society in 1997 and creation of development fund from tourism receipts in protected areas were two major initiatives to augment resources for wildlife conservation, which were minuscule in those days. The creation of Wildlife Heath Monitoring, Disease Diagnostic Research Cell in collaboration with the Jawaharlal Nehru Agriculture University in 1999 and its elevation to Centre for Wildlife Forensic and Health in 2008( now “ The school for Wildlife Forensic & Health”), was a step towards strengthening our capabilities in the field of wildlife health management and wildlife crime investigation.
Inducting veterinarians on deputation from the veterinary department in 2000, training them in wildlife health management, and deputing them to tiger reserves, Kuno sanctuary and Van Vihar National Park, was another milestone. In 2006, the wildlife wing created 9 (now 10) fully trained and equipped regional wildlife rescue squads located at strategic places to tackle human: wild animal conflict that had escalated overtime due to the shrinking habitats and expanding villages and towns. In 2008, the wildlife wing established the State Tiger Strike force at Bhopal with five field units located at strategic places that are the hubs of wildlife crime or transit points for wildlife trade; 2 of these units have been provided with dog squads (now 3 more dog squads have been added). Today the State Tiger strike Force is a force to reckon with. Obviously, the management practices pursued by the wildlife wing cannot be termed 'passive' as some experts have been claiming. 
Since 2005 we began raising orphaned tiger cubs in semi-wild condition within Kanha tiger reserves and later in Bandhavgarh.. Most of these cubs were released into the wild as healthy adults. 
It was difficult to convince forest dwelling communities to leave the Protected areas and resettle elsewhere, besides there was hardly any money to shift those who wanted to get rehabilitated .In 1996, We were lucky to get a commitment from the MoEF that they would fund relocation of 1543 families from the Kuno sanctuary to facilitate reintroduction of Asiatic lion. The funds made available by GoI resulted in a relocation work involving 24 villages. Perhaps this was the largest and the only example of such massive relocation of villages from any PA in the country. It is another matter that we had to fight a battle with the MoEF to get funds in the later part of 2004.. Gradually the funds from the MoEf and NTCA for relocation of villages diminished and since 2014 most of the relocations were funded by the stste government. The credit for garnering funds from the stste bidget solely goes to shri Jitendra Agrawal as APCCF and PCCF wildlife

Despite the dearth of money and land for rehab we mustered resources to shift several villages till a reasonably better policy and package was launched by GoI in 2008. But the problem didn't end there as GoI had little funds to spare Here one of our most resourceful officers Sh. Jitendra Agrawal, who joined as APCCF wildlife in 2012 (he is presently the CWLW) convinced the state government to allocate funds from surpluses in the Tribal department. The then CS and PS forest were quite helpful and soon we had enough to relocate villages from Kanha, Satpura,Panna,Bandhavgarh and Sanjay tiger Reserves and some of the sanctuaries. The village relocation was thoroughly planned and executed.The managers kept a detailed record of all the aspects of relocation and ensured post-relocation hand-holding. Both Kanha and Satpura received international acclaim for their extraordinary work. And the end result was that the tigers of both reserves got extensive inviolate areas at their disposal and the prey responded to the additional areas as the sites were converted into flourishing grassland with the able assistance of Professor Muratkar. We owe a lot to Professor Murtakar,too.

We successfully reintroduced an orphaned tigress, raised in captivity since 2005 within natural habitat in Kanha tiger reserve, into Panna tiger reserve. This ‘raise and rehab’ programme was conceived and began by Mr. Khageshwar Naik , who was the field Director of Kanha tiger reserve, then. This success encouraged us to raise some more orphaned tiger cubs in captivity (instead of sending them to a zoo) and rewild them in the same or any other tiger reserves wherever population dynamics of tigers and prey availability permitted such supplementation. Till now we have rewilded seven orphaned tiger cubs successfully. Besides, we regularly monitor tigers dispersing from natal areas, and whenever they are found straying into hostile territory such as human habitations, we captured them; radio collared them and released them in suitable and protected habitats. This particular activity has opened up a new path to ensure genetic exchange among tigers critical for their continued survival in the wild as natural corridor are fragmented and extremely stressed under the demands of development and ever increasing biotic pressure.

By 2010, we had created a strong foundation and learned the skills to take the next step in 'Proactive' management and took up the task of reintroduction of those species that had gone locally extinct from some of our parks. After obtaining permission from GoI in October 2010, we began gearing up for reintroduction of gaur into Bandhavgarh tiger reserve from where it had become extinct about 20 years ago. The then Chief wildlife warden Dr. H.S. Pabla spearheaded this task with extraordinary zeal, overcoming all odds and opposition. He roped in experts from South Africa through Conservation Corporation of Africa (now -& Beyond). This collaborative exercise built up the confidence in field personnel and vets and the next batch of gaur was captured and transported to Bandhavgarh, totally without any external assistance. Heartened by this success the wildlife wing planned reintroduction of black buck into Kanha tiger reserve. The methodology was borrowed from Andhra Pradesh and involved immobilizing a group of black buck during the night with high decibel sound and search light and then physically lifting them and loading them into transport trucks. This operation caused heavy mortality. The reason for mortality obviously was the onset of capture myopathy that ensued as the animals were physically handled by the captors while the animals were fully conscious. We learned an important lesson from this failure. We learned to become more circumspect and honed our planning skills.

To avoid the recurrence of earlier mistakes, we adopted the African boma capture strategy which was partially deployed in the gaur capture exercise at Kanha. At this time we were facing over abundance of chital in Van Vihar National Park, which is a 4.5 sq.km totally fenced area without any free-ranging carnivore except Jackal. We sent a proposal to the state government to permit us to capture Chital from Van Vihar for restocking some PAs deficient in prey. Once we received permission from the Government, a capture boma was set up at Van Vihar, and training of staff began. After several trails and errors and innovations, by 2013 a team of staff at Van Vihar became quite adept in capturing chital and safely transporting them to other PAs. Till November 2014, we had successfully captured and transported 26 chital from Van Vihar to Ralamandal sanctuary, Indore zoological park and Ratapani sanctuary and 31 chital from Umaria to Sanjay tiger reserve.

Since 2010, we had pursued our plan to reintroduce critically endangered hard ground barasingha from Kanha to Satpura tiger reserve. The purpose of such reintroduction is to ensure long-term continuity of the species. Based on the Population Viability Study by WII, the plan envisages establishing a founder stock of 20 (with a male to female sex ratio of 1:3) individuals in a predator-proof enclosure at Bori in Satpura Tiger Reserve and release them into the wild when the population within the enclosed area reached nearly 50. Supplementation of 12 animals will follow this exercise with the same ratio of 1:3, every alternate year, for the next five years. The founding stock shall be kept in an enclosure which is approximately 27 ha in size and shall be enlarged if necessary. (The enclosure was built at Bori after a thorough study of the site for habitat suitability. This task was completed by the scientists of SFRI, Jabalpur). By the end of 5th year, the population in the enclosure is expected to reach 106. A stock of approximately 60 animals, from the enclosure, shall be released into the Bori meadow at the end of the 5th year and shall be supplemented with ten animals each year, from the surpluses in the enclosure. A small breeding group shall be retained in the enclosure to supplement the wild population from time to time. 
Agreeing to our proposal, in May 2011, the Government of India had permitted capture of 20 barasingha but soon after that the black buck capture debacle prompted GoI to withhold the permission. Our relentless persuasion over three years finally resulted in NTCA granting us permission with two caveats – 1. We should first shift two male and three female barasingha from Kanha to Van Vihar National Park to demonstrate our skills 2. and only use chemical restraint to capture barasingha.

As soon as we received the concurrence from NTCA in January 2014, we began preparations for the capture and translocation operation. Chemical immobilization of barasingha was ruled out as our experience in late 1977, 1981, 1982 and early 90s with narcotics as well as other common immobilization drugs did not bring about desired success, and we lost many animals, though the managers were able to create a small population of Barasingha in Supkhar. Only the operation conducted in June 1981 met with reasonable success – 7 out of 8 captured, using Ketamine and Xylazine mixture, survived. Therefore, we decided to use the safer boma capture method. Preparations were already on at Kanha, and a Boma was erected within the 50-hectare enclosure that held around 35 barasingha, some chital, and blackbuck.

Because 50 hectares was a vast area for capturing Barasingha using the Boma technique, we had decided to reduce the area so as to manage it comfortably. When I reached Kanha for the operation, I found that the area, even after reduction, was a massive 26 hectare. I also discovered that the acclimatization of barasingha to the boma was not achieved till then, therefore, it was necessary to reduce the size of the boma further. We took on the spot decision, and by the evening of 6 January, the size of the boma was reduced to about 3 hectares. As the animals were not acclimatised to grazing inside the boma, we improvised and took a decision to make arrangements for haakaa which is deployed in Africa for the mass capture of animals. While in Africa Haakaa is carried out either by helicopter or vehicles, we decided to conduct it in the traditional way with the help of a crowd of people.

It was an operation fraught with difficulties and a very high risk of failure. But with meticulous planning that took care of the minutest details, in comparison to our previous attempts, this operation turned out extremely successful with zero mortality. Besides, we have learned a safe method to restrain and transport a species that is considered hyper sensitive to human handling and stress. The success of this path-breaking operation has been possible due to detailed planning and skilful implementation in which a large number of wildlife personnel participated.

Though I was the overall in charge, the whole operation was carried out by the officers and staff of Kanha tiger reserve with support from a small team of Van Vihar national park and vets from Centre for Wildlife Forensic and Health Jabalpur. An observer from WII, Dehradun also participated. Shri Jasbir Singh Chouhan, the Field Director Kanha provided excellent leadership to the entire team throughout the field operation, Shri Shubhranjan Sen, Scientist WII, Dr. Atul Gupta, Dr. A.B. Shrivastava and their respective teams contributed wholeheartedly. Shri Rajnish Singh ably handled the translocation task with his team of able drivers and vets. Devi Singh, the driver of the transport truck, needs special mention as his skills came handy on the treacherous hilly roads inside Satpura tiger reserve. All the CCFs, DFOs and their staff of forest circles falling on the route were alerted before the transportation began; their teams ensured a hassle free and safe passage for the transportation team through busy city streets and toll nakas. They also arranged food and water for the team throughout the long journey.

The next step is to reintroduce barasingha in Satpura valley which once teemed with barasingha. We hope ardently that in the winter of 2015 we would be bemused by the resonant, long-drawn rutting call of barasingha in Van Vihar and Bori meadow and enthralled by the sight of them holding their neck skyward with tufts of grasses dangling like royal decorations from their majestic antlers.
Post script- After this successful exercise, several batches of barasingha were brought to Bori. Today, both at Van Vhar and Bori the barasingha have bred successfully. And at Bori, with the onset of winter the resounding rutting call of the majestic males, with their massive grass adorned antlers, resonates against the towering Bailkandhar hills to the delight of the onlookers. It gives me immense satisfaction to behold the cute spotted fawns frolicking across the vast expanse of grassland.

End note- The wildlife wing is in able hands at present but I am pained to see that some very fine and diligent officers who have given away a sizable part of their career to wildlife management have been kept away from action. Shri Jasbir Singh Chauhan, Shri R.Srinivas Murthy, Shri C K Patil , Shri Aseem Shrivastava must be brought back to the wildlife wing. I also must mention Shri G. Krishnamurthy, Shri Rajesh Sahay, Shri L.K Choudhary Shri Atul Shrivastava,Shri Alok Kumar Shri Pushkar Singh, Shri Chitranjan Tyagi, Shri P.C. Dubey, Shri R.B, Sinha,Shri Amitabh A\/’gnihotri, Shri Vivek Jain, Shri L. Krishnamoorthy, Shri R.S Bhaduriya, and C.S. Nimama, - who without any formal training in wildlife management, have excelled in protecting and managing wildlife in their territorial jurisdictions. There is a long list of dedicated ACFs, rangers, foresters and guards and their watchers who have toiled consistently in remote areas away from their families to ensure safety and well being of wildlife. I have not seen any other civilian outfit where employees brave such hardships. My salute to all of them and their families. In the research field I recall three persons who excelled in their task – Dr. P.C. Kotwal, Dr. R.K Shukla and Dr. R.K Sharma- all three of them have contributed in their own way to our knowledge and understanding, strengthening our work. On the legal side we have a devoted lawyer Mrs. Manjula Shrivastava who not only fights legal battle in courts but trains our field personnel with equal zeal. Her dedication is such that once I received a call from her from the forests of Damoh where she was following a dispersing tiger along with the staff of Damoh division at 10 o';clock in the night. Her worry was that the Katni staff had not arrived despite her several calls to the DFO and the tiger was about to enter the outskirts of Katni town.
In the field of wildlife rescue a name that singularly stands out is of Shri Niranjan Bisen, a master of field-craft. Out of several hundred watchers who are eyes and ears for us in the forests I remember Manglu baiga, a tracker par-excellence - he was once got bit in the neck by a man eater leopard while he was sleeping along with the team sent there to track and immobilize or kill the aberrant animal.. Shri Manglu survived the attack. Among the veterinarians I admire DR. A.B Shrivastava, whose contribution will never be forgotten, besides him all our vets in the wildlife wing have excelled in their job and I consider them ''world class''. Please forgive me if I have missed some names owing to my inability to recall names. You may mention those names in the comment slot below.I hope and pray that the government brings back the officers who have been victimised and kept away from the wildlife wing owing to the whims of the myopic and self centered politicians otherwise the Madhya Pradesh, a leader in wildlife management in the country, will soon lose its respect and credibility.

Suhas, 30 April 2017.

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