Training Programme on Early Warning and Rapid Response towards Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation

22 Nov, 2019

A three days’ training programme was organised for the Rapid Response Team (RRT)/ Wildlife Rescue Squad members and other officials from West Bengal Forest Department to facilitate their technical competencies, competencies for promoting harmonious co-existence and operational effectiveness and efficiency in HWC mitigation, where hands-on exposure of various technological aspects to mitigate HWC have been demonstrated. The event was organised by the Indo-German Project “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) in India” in partnership with the West Bengal Forest Department during 20th to 22nd November 2019 at Chalsa, North Bengal. 35 participants from eight wildlife squads/ RRT and seven North Bengal divisions participated in this training programme.

The first day started with the welcome note by Mr. Ravi Kant Sinha PCCF (WL) & CWLW, West Bengal. He said that every HWC related incident is unique and commended the work of the West Bengal Forest Department (WBFD). This address was followed by an overview of the Indo-German Project on “Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation” (HWC) in India, by Dr. Subhadeep Bhattacharjee, Technical Expert GIZ. Mr. N V Raja Shekar, APCCF (WL) and Dr. V K Sood, APCCF (North Bengal) addressed the participants and encouraged them to carry out HWC Mitigation tasks more effectively. Mr. G P Chhetri, CCF Northern Circle; Mr. Debanshu Mallick, CCF Hill circle and Mr. Subhankar Sengupta, CCF & Field Director, Buxa Tiger Reserve discussed various aspects of HWC in their respective areas. Mr. Ujjal Ghosh, CFF Wildlife North delivered a key note speech on the overview of the Ecological Status of the North Bengal with respect to Wildlife Management and the land-use changes as the major drivers of HWC along with existing mitigation strategies. A panel discussion set the base for further discussions on the overall concept of “Early Warning and Rapid Response” as an effective instrument towards HWC mitigation and action plan of the related activities.

The Commanding Officer of the Sahastra Seema Bal (SSB), Mr. Parag Sarkar motivated the participants with the preparations required for mob control during HWC incidence. Thereafter, DFO Kurseong, Mr. Sheik Fareed presented a proposal of deployment of Tentacle Fence as an effective mitigation measure from Human-Elephant Conflict and DFO Jaldapara National Park Mr. Kumar Vimal discussed the case study and mitigation strategies of the Human-Leopard Conflict issues in Jaldapara Wildlife Division areas.

In the post lunch session, the participants brainstormed in a Knowledge Cafe to elaborate the outline of three technological applications such as GPS and Mapping Tools; Radio-telemetry and Camera Trapping as efficient Early Warning measures. The session merged into another brainstorming session where senior journalist Mr. Ramesh Menon shared an overview of media engagement strategies with the participants, to be adopted by the WBFD personnel especially by the RRT members. Dr. Bhattacharjee from GIZ along with Mr. Orvill Nazareth, Research Fellow, Wildlife Institute of India and Mr. Aritra Kshettry, Inspire Fellow, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, moderated this session.

Day 2 of the Training programme started with a session by Dr. Chanchal Datta, Assistant Director, Animal Resource Development Department, Jhargram; Dr. Shweta Mondal, Veterinary Officer, Gorumara National Park and Mr. Subrata Pal Chowdhury, Technical Assistant, HQ of Wildlife wing WBFD. They facilitated a theoretical discussion on the key information regarding physical and chemical immobilisation, capture and post capture procedures for the wildlife species.

The group visited Dhupjhora area of Gorumara National Park to observe a hands-on demonstration on chemical immobilisation and remote drug projection and delivery under the above-mentioned panel of veterinary doctors and technical expert. Various technological aspects of the chemical drug delivery being used as the effective method to capture various wildlife species were demonstrated. Thereafter, every member of the group witnessed an animal darting exercise by using drug delivery guns to practice on an improvised animal target. Local experts from the wildlife tranquilising team in North Bengal, Mr. Bijoy Kumar Dhar co-facilitated the session.

The post lunch session on the second day focused on understanding snake handling and management as the mitigation measures of human snake conflict. Mr. Anirban Chaudhuri, Herpetology specialist from Wildlife Conservation Society India who spoke on the basic protocol of snake rescue and rehabilitation. He demonstrated the capture, handling and subsequent release of non-venomous and mildly venomous snakes for different lengths of pythons. He has also provided practical experiences on rescuing snake eggs during management and rescue of various reptilian species and understand the behaviour and response from six different types of live snakes in this session.

The third day focused on crowd control strategies during any HWC incidences. The day started with the simulation exercise in the barrack areas under the command of Mr. Sarkar. The SSB personnel demonstrated various techniques and strategies of a riot drill and the simultaneous humanitarian activities to be conducted during emergency situations.

When the participants returned to the training venue from the SSB barrack, they were briefed by Mr. Debashis Chakrabarty, Sub-Divisional Police Officer of Mal Bazar. Mr. Chakrabarty discussed with the participants regarding the emergency preparedness during the wildlife rescue in human dominated landscape and he emphasised inter-departmental coordination between Forest and Police administration regarding the emergency situations when large to larger crowd gathered around any straying wildlife species. He has initiated village level awareness campaigns for encouraging the local communities to adhere to the rules and regulations during such situations as well as for educating them with basic wildlife behaviour. Three officers in charge of three local police stations accompanied him and brought their Rapid Action Forces (RAF) designated for restricting the mob from unruly behaviour for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation processes.

On the third day, Mr. Anirban Chaudhuri made a small presentation on the identification of venomous and non-venomous snakes and demonstrated first-aid measures to be incorporated after any snake bite.

The last session of the training programme revolved around operational safety measures during rescue and rehabilitation of any wildlife species where Dr. Datta and Dr. Mondal shared brief presentations with the participants regarding the safety protocol to ensure their own safety. Mr. Jayanta Mandal, Assistant Wildlife Warden of Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary shared the case study of Elephant Rescue from Siliguri and shared the security measures to be considered during such scenarios. Mr. Menon showed two small movies (from SGNP Maharashtra and West Midnapur, West Bengal) to the participants as examples of good practices of HWC mitigation where Forest administrations worked very closely with the local communities, media and other stake holders to reduce the extent of HWC incidences.

During the last phase of the session, Retd. CCF Mr. P K Pandit spoke about patterns of human injury, casualty and wildlife mortality for the entire state of West Bengal during the last 15 years. He also shared the current strength and available vacancies of the Forest Department in managing and mitigating HWC incidences. The participants also discussed their experiences and perceptions with the existing panel of Retd. CCF Mr. Pandit, DFO Gorumara Ms. Nisha Goswami, DFO Jalpaiguri Mr. Mridul Kumar and the veterinary doctors and technical experts from West Bengal Forest Department. Several participants reflected on their contributions in planning their respective mitigation strategies under early warning and rapid response in a sustainable and effective manner. They also provided valuable feedback to improve such future training programmes. The workshop ended with the delivery of key messages from Ms. Goswami as the panel distributed the certificates to all the participants.