02 March,2023 09:24 AM IST | Mumbai | Ainie Rizvi
The World Wildlife Day is observed every year on March 3 to raise awareness about the wild fauna and flora across the globe. Photo Courtesy: Mid-day with special permission
When a striped Hyena entered the Malshiras forest of Maharashtra, its right paw got trapped in the hunting net. These hunting nets are laid down by the farmers of Solapur to prevent wild boars from spoiling the harvest. Incidentally, the Hyena managed to pull out the entire trap out of the ground and ran with it in the fields for almost a week.
"The trap had snapped on its paw and it had completely crushed the bones. The paw was hanging loose by a skin tissue. When our rescue team spotted the Hyena in the sugarcane field, we saw that its entire paw was about to fall off. It was writhing in pain as it had bled profusely from the right leg. We managed to keep the mob away from attacking it and brought it back to the Wildlife Transit Treatment Centre for medical attention", shares a wildlife rescuer Tuhin Satarkar from Pune.
At the centre, the veterinarian operated its right leg while feeding the Hyena with a fluid diet for a few weeks. After three months of rigorous care and rehabilitation, its health began to improve and it started consuming meat and walking on all fours. On February 16, the Hyena was released back into the forest after full recovery.
Hyenas are amongst the various species that form the rich biodiversity of Maharashtra. Lately, these species have been facing a threat of population decline due to changes in their natural habitat. The causes can be attributed to urban development, climate change and evolving agricultural patterns. To unearth the wildlife conservation efforts, Mid-day Online spoke to wildlife rescuers Tuhin Satarkar and Nachiket Utpat from RESQ, a pune-based NGO that rescues, rehabilitates and provides care to wildlife.
Threatened species of Maharashtra
The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a global Red List of Threatened Species. Wildlife rescuers at RESQ have managed to rehabilitate the following animals that are identified as threatened species of Maharashtra:
Indian Star Tortoise (Vulnerable),
Indian Leopard (Vulnerable),
Black Spotted Pond Turtle (Endangered),
Rusty-Spotted Cat (Near threatened),
Indian Roofed Turtle (Vulnerable),
Mugger Crocodile (Vulnerable),
Crowned River Turtle (Endangered), Gaur (Vulnerable),
Indian pangolin (Endangered),
Indian Long-billed Vulture (Critically endangered)
The goal of wildlife rescue missions
Often wildlife gets stuck in arduous situations like an animal trapped in a well, hit by a car, met with electrocution or getting stuck on a tree. These situations require swift responses from the wildlife rescue team. However, just rescuing them is not enough. Nachiket Utpat, director outreach and human-wildlife interaction at RESQ, shares that rehabilitation is a crucial aspect of rescuing wildlife.
"Upon being released into the forests, these animals need to be self-sufficient after they have recovered. The ultimate goal of rescue missions is to enable an injured wildlife to go back into the wild and seek their own food and thrive in their habitat" he said.
The second goal is to sensitise people on peaceful coexistence with wildlife around them. Going ahead, the number of encounters that people have with animals is only going to rise. "People need to identify the differentiation between domestic animals and wildlife animals. For instance, a wildlife doesn*t necessarily have to be fed or petted. We need to just let them be to maintain harmony."
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Challenges involved in wildlife rescue missions
Wildlife rescuers go through a great deal of challenges while conducting these rescue missions. Tuhin recalls the case of a Gaur that had fallen down a well in 2022. As per The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Indian Gaur comes under the vulnerable category. "Unlike leopards and other wild cats, a Gaur is a tough animal to rescue owing to its weight which is more than a ton."
In such situations, the animals are already scared and try to run away from humans. But being trapped in a well, it had no chance of escaping. So, the team had to approach the mission with sheer meticulousness and sensitivity. "Inside a confined space, there has to be no scope of error in pulling out the animal as we don*t want to hurt/scare the animal in the process."
One of the members called for a crane from the nearby area to pull out the Gaur. The rescuers climbed down the well to fix the lifting straps around its body. The straps were connected to the crane and the Gaur was pulled out and rescued successfully.
When it comes to trafficked animals, rescuers conduct the mission in tandem with the Forest department of Maharashtra. Some of the rapidly trafficked wildlife species are Parakeet, Pangolins, Indian star tortoise and turtles. Amongst these species, Parakeets and turtles are often trafficked to be sold as pets while Pangolins are traded for medicinal use.
Awareness on human-wildlife interaction and coexistence
How does one react when they find an injured animal? It could be a snake, a leopard or even a bird. In one of the awareness modules called âcoexistence*, Nachiket alerts people on how to deal with urban wildlife. In these sessions, he shares the methodology to deal with wildlife mindfully in urban and industrial spaces.
"Encountering leopards in a human-dominated space is the new normal in Maharashtra. We conduct dedicated sessions to educate people on how to react in such situations.", shares Nachiket. Some of the sensitisation tasks in case of Leopard sighting are: Setting up cameras, understanding the presence, pacifying the locals and suggesting safe measures of coexistence with the animal.
Spotting wildlife in their region can throw people into a frenzy. They often turn into mobs that try to attack the animal with the purpose of killing. To curb such incidents, these awareness programs help people understand the behaviour of the animal. For instance, in the case of striped Hyena that was spotted in Solapur, people needed to be educated about the traits of the animal in order to prevent mob reaction.
Hyenas are very shy animals and do not come after humans. However, people have misguided beliefs that Hyenas are predators that kill and carry their prey on their backs. Many people misunderstand a Hyena for a tiger because of the stripes. Debunking these myths becomes an important aspect of these awareness programs.
On World Wildlife Day, Nachiket*s team is conducting awareness sessions on coexisting with snakes at industrial sites. The program aims to equip people with knowledge of snakes and how to handle the reptile when they spot it at the workstation.
Equipment to conduct wildlife rescue missions
When it comes to equipment needed to conduct rescue missions, the gears vary as per the situation. Technical wildlife rescue can be categorised into four situations - Aerial, confined spaces, underground and water rescue. For instance, in the case of rescuing the Gaur, Tuhin*s team went underground well equipped with ropes, harnesses and safety gears.
Telescopic Poles: For aerial rescues, birds get stuck into kite flying stings. To safeguard the birds, rescuers use telescopic poles that are made out of carbon fibre. These poles extend up to 70 feet and help in rescuing stuck birds safely. These poles also come handy in rescuing animals from underground spaces.
Professional Technical Ascending/ Descending Gear: These are used by rescuers to safely ascend and descend from buildings, wells, and other confined spaces above or below the ground.
Thermal UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle): Thermal drones are used to safely monitor, search and identify wildlife presence, behaviour, movement patterns in conflict areas.
Inflatable Boat: For rescues of animals in natural calamities like floods
Tuhin*s journey as a wildlife rescuer
Eight years ago, Tuhin found his calling as a wildlife rescuer in Pune, Maharashtra. Back then, he used to work as a professional rock climber for a living. During one of his climbs, he came across wildlife rescuers saving a stray buffalo stuck in a pile of rubble. Tuhin was captivated by the rescue work and saw an opportunity to align with the team.
He was initially involved as a volunteer where he witnessed wildlife animals falling into wells or getting trapped in hunting nets. With further experience, he realised the major challenges the team faces while rescuing the animals. That was the tipping point when Tuhin came in to bridge the gap with his climbing skills. He began to deploy his skill-set to rescue wildlife animals trapped in aerial, underwater or underground spaces.
This year, Tuhin has completed eight years with RESQ and he now heads the operations of the rescue team. Right from the smallest ones like squirrels, cats, dogs to leopards and the massive Indian Bison, Tuhin has rescued diverse forms of wildlife. During the 2018 Kerala floods, Tuhin was on a mission to wade through water and pull out destitute animals stuck in the floods. With the help of locals and government authorities, he managed to rescue, rehabilitate and provide medical help to goats, cows, cattle and even snakes.
Also Read: Mumbai*s little-known tryst with tigers and the continued need for conservation efforts