13 Jan, 2021
The training included fieldcraft on Leopard monitoring, tracking and rescue operation
A Rapid Response Team (RRT) training was organised on 13 January 2021 at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, as part of the Indo-German project on ‘Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) in India’ under the project grant agreement ‘Knowledge Support to Development of Guidelines, Specialised Field Studies, and Training on Human Wildlife Conflict mitigation in India’. The training aimed at improving the understanding and strengthening the skills of frontline staff on the use of modern technologies and tools for HWC mitigation, including fieldcraft on leopard monitoring, tracking, and rescue operation. 17 participants ranging from Range Forest Officers to Forest Guards from the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Haridwar and Dehradun Forest Divisions of Uttarakhand Forest attended the training. As the icebreaking sessions, Dr C Ramesh (Scientist, WII), Dr Upma Manral and Dr Rishi Kumar (Project Scientists, WII) conducted benchmarking and explained the training need assessment worksheet and post-training assessment requirements to participants specifically prepared in Hindi for their better understanding.
In the inaugural session, Dr Dhananjai Mohan (Director, WII) highlighted various issues faced by State Forest Departments in managing and conserving wildlife, including the recent outbreak of bird flu in many of the Indian states including Uttarakhand. He emphasised the need of technical interventions for effectively managing HWC and the role of capacity building exercises in enabling frontline staff to mitigate HWC at the human-wildlife interface. He highlighted the role of GIZ in HWC mitigation in partner states through various participatory activities, development of action plans and guidelines, and provisioning of different equipment and resources. Dr Neeraj Khera (Team leader, GIZ) interacted with the participants virtually and introduced the purpose of various capacity building initiatives for HWC mitigation, organised and supported by GIZ. She appreciated the role of State Forest Departments and WII as partners in achieving the purpose.
In the first panel discussion on Human-Leopard conflict, Dr S Sathyakumar (Scientist-G, WII) spoke about the history of Human-Leopard Conflict (HLC) in Uttarakhand as an integral part of rural life and various mitigation strategies being practiced traditionally for mitigating conflict, including the killing of conflict animals by noted hunters such as Jim Corbett. He highlighted multiple drivers of HLC in the state viz., fragmentation of wildlife habitat, increased open habitats and grasslands, conversion of abandoned agricultural fields (due to migration of inhabitants to urban centres because of HWC and lack of livelihood in villages) into shrubby habitats near villages that provide suitable hiding places for leopard and other wild species, and better wildlife protection efforts resulting in improvement of leopard populations near human landscapes. He noted various challenges involved in HLC mitigation in the hill regions of Uttarakhand counting rugged terrain and poor access, lack of relevant knowledge among key stakeholders, change in local communities' perception and attitude, and crowd management. He shared the findings and success stories from a research work conducted in the Pauri Garhwal region where high leopard density and increasing HLC have become a huge problem for people. He emphasised using modern technologies such as tracking the movement of collared leopards around villages, conflict mapping, foxlight, and experimenting with a mix of traditional and advanced mitigation strategies.
Dr S.P. Goyal (Subject Matter Specialist, WII) highlighted that the firefighting mode of HWC management is less effective in preventing HWC and that there is a greater need to understand the drivers of conflict. He noted that their research work in Pauri in the last decade bridged this gap between causes and prevention. He pointed out that not all leopards in the human-wildlife interface are habitual offenders, and attacks on humans or livestock are often accidental or opportunistic. He also emphasised on conflict mapping to identify the high conflict areas and for planning and implementing mitigation strategies, and use of DNA forensics to identify repeat offenders. He noted that leopard behaviour in a conflict situation, such as the passing of conflict behaviour from mothers to cubs or learning of this behaviour from related animals, is still poor, and studies are needed to fill this gap. He concluded that incidents of leopard attacks on humans and livestock can be reduced significantly from simple interventions such as removing the stalking cover from village surroundings, preventing open defecation and provisioning of lavatory near houses, changing school timings, and encouraging children and women to move in groups.
Dr Kafil Hussain (Scientist – F, WII) listed essential steps to be aware of before going for a leopard capture or rescue operation. He noted aspects such as a listing of tools, information on their usage and maintenance, and points to consider regarding animal’s behaviour and physiology in such situations. While aspects such as the conditions of a distressed animal (open ground, building, well/ditch with or without water, injured, etc.) are uncertain, and one must learn with every experience. He also depicted essential tools used in chemical immobilisation of leopard and for the safety of team handling such operations.
The session involved a discussion where experts responded to various questions from frontline staff. Questions raised during the discussion were stress-related-death of leopard due to crowd during rescue operations, the reason for depredation of a large number of smaller livestock by an animal in one incident, variation in the behaviour and ecology of leopards due to introduction or removal of a bigger predator such as a tiger and how to plan for HWC situations arising in any such event, trust-building with local communities for successful HWC management and use of modern techniques such as radio collar and DNA forensic in conflict mitigation.
The next session on using modern technology and tools in HWC mitigation was led by Dr K Ramesh (Scientist E, WII). He emphasised on technological interventions for effective HWC management and prevention. He noted that long-term monitoring of collared leopards has indicated that the animals mostly avoid encounters with humans. Using radio collars to monitor leopards residing and captured from human-wildlife interface can help predict their movement in and around the human settlements, and people can be informed. He also pointed out that building apps to track animals, and updated information about the movement of large animals such as leopards would benefit in the prediction of incidents and lowering accidental attacks and that translocation leopard from one site to a new area can also augment conflict in many ways.
If the translocated animal is a resident leopard, it might try to come back to point of capture, thus creating conflict along the route; other leopards might come to fill this space thus, increasing conflict; lastly, the translocated animal might create problem at the new site. He also explained the difference between VHF and satellite collars, the concept of getting real-time data from collared animals, and the advancement of collar technology with time. He concluded that with respect to the use of technology in HWC mitigation "we have come from no information to some information to better information". He then responded to the participant’s questions on extracting correct information regarding collared animal’s location and the impact of collars on the animal’s behaviour.
Use of camera traps, radio collars, and drone was demonstrated with hands-on training in the next session. Ms Tamali Mondal (Research scholar, WII) demonstrated camera traps and steps to set up a camera in the field. Participants practiced the steps and shared feedback that the exercise helped them recollect what they had learned during previous training. Dr C Ramesh demonstrated the radio collar with both satellite and VHF transmitter and how to use it on an animal. He explained various technical aspects of the collar, including battery life, the automatic dropping of a collar, acquiring data, etc. Mr Shashank (Project Engineer, WII) explained the process of operating UAVs or drones, various categories based on their size and weight, legal aspects associated with these and post-processing of data and imageries. He demonstrated the drones’ flight and highlighted various technical details and challenges associated with using them in forests, uneven terrains, or follow an animal in the wild. The participants were interested in learning more and using these tools for wildlife monitoring and habitat management, particularly to overcome challenging situations associated with HWC management.
During the post-simulation brainstorming, discussions included concerns regarding national security and data breach from using web-based (satellite-based) tools and related legal aspects, and losing a drone to bird attacks. It was discussed how with increase in demand and production of such tools and technology at the national level and capacity building of relevant sectors is also needed. Participants raised concerns about limitations, such as lack of zoom feature or financial constraints. Dr K Ramesh responded that advanced UAVs are also available with better zoom and the feature of locking on to target animal for following its movement during rescue operations. Dr Sathyakumar demonstrated foxlights, which have been proven effective in reducing livestock depredation and straying leopards into the villages in Pauri Garhwal region. Towards the end of the workshop Dr C Ramesh explained HLC management guidelines regarding legal tools during capture situations. Videos of successful leopard rescue operations from different parts of country were also shown to the participants for better understanding.
The Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) project implemented by GIZ in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and State Forest Departments of Karnataka, Uttarakhand and West Bengal, aims at providing technical support at the national level, and effective implementation of HWC mitigation measures in selected states of India. The project pilot sites are: Haridwar Forest Division and adjoining landscape including Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, Gorumara Wildlife Division in West Bengal, and Kodagu Forest Circle in Karnataka.
The main objective of the project is that the rural population in project areas, where agreed guidelines and tools are applied to mitigate human-wildlife conflict, is better protected against it. The project takes the approach of harmonious coexistence, by ensuring that both—human and wildlife—are protected from conflict. Read more
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