RRT Training on Human - Rhesus Macaque Conflict Management in Uttarakhand

28 Jan, 2021

A training for the Rapid Response Team (RRT) members of the Uttarakhand Forest Department was organised on 28 January 2021 by the Indo-German project on Human Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) in India and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at Dehradun. 19 participants ranging from Range Forest Officers to forest guards from the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Haridwar and Dehradun Forest Divisions of Uttarakhand Forest participated in the training. It aimed at capacity development of frontline staff in managing Human – Rhesus macaque Conflict and habitat management with respect to threats from invasive plants and forest fires. Participants learnt about the behaviour, ecology, capture and post-capture management, population management of Rhesus macaque, and implementation strategies on wildlife habitat management and restoration. They were trained on using various equipment needed during capture and tracking of Rhesus macaque. The training is a part of ‘Knowledge Support to Development of Guidelines, Specialised Field Studies, and Training on Human Wildlife Conflict mitigation in India’ under the Indo-German project.

In his inaugural address, Dr Dhananjai Mohan, Director - WII, stated that Human-Wildlife Conflict has become one of the biggest challenges in various forest divisions in the state. Although culling of over-abundant problem animals is practiced in many parts of the world, it is not applicable in India for various reasons including religious sentiments of local communities. He added that in the case of Rhesus macaque, sterilisation has been tested as a long-term solution. He highlighted the decline in people’s tolerance towards wild animals and the need to make them partners in the mitigation efforts. He emphasized that maintaining a strong collaboration between WII and Uttarakhand Forest Department will be fruitful for resolving various wildlife conservation and management challenges. Dr Pradeep Mehta, Technical Expert, HWC project, GIZ, introduced the Indo-German project and various activities conducted under the project.

The first panel discussion focused on habitat management, particularly conflict mitigation with Rhesus macaque and eradication of invasive plant species. Experts talked about the degradation of wildlife habitat due to invasive plant species and probable solutions. Dr GS Rawat, former Dean-WII, stated that habitat management is an important component of wildlife management and conservation. He briefly explained the steps taken at the Rajaji Tiger Reserve for removal of invasive plant species and the grassland development and weed removal activities on field. Dr Rawat stated that grassland management should be done proactively for sustaining wild herbivore populations.

When neglected, it has led to a decline in herbivore population and an increase in HWC, particularly with carnivores looking for prey. Invasive plant species such as Lantana camara and Eupatorium adenophorum have posed major challenges in Uttarakhand and should be removed periodically. He highlighted that various anthropogenic activities inside the forests such as livestock grazing and resource collection by humans play a major role in spreading of weeds and invasive plant species. Ending such activities is crucial to habitat improvement efforts such as the case of Rajaji Tiger Reserve that saw an improvement in wildlife habitat after the removal of human settlements. Another key component for habitat management included strategically developed water holes for wildlife. He concluded that understanding the habitat requirements of animal species is imperative to taking appropriate habitat improvement interventions.

Professor Qamar Qureshi, Scientist G – WII mentioned that habitat improvement steps may lead to introduction of weeds or invasive species. He briefly discussed various methods of weed eradication such as the widespread method of removing Lantana plants and its effectiveness. He explained that the use of chemical or a biological control is not an option for weed removal inside a Protected Area or forest.

Next session focused on the behavioural and ecological aspects of Rhesus macaque, particularly in the conflict scenario. Dr Rawat noted that the species is one of the most widespread and successful primate species. As the species is a generalist feeder, it forages on crops during different growth stages, starting from seeds to harvest. He added that understanding their behaviour is very imperative for conflict mitigation, but tricky as different troops of the species can have different foraging habits and strategies. Rhesus macaque could particularly problematic during Kumbh Mela in Haridwar due to easy availability of food. In the past, strategies such as building a huge enclosure and plantation of fruit trees have been suggested. However, long-term planning and establishing a task force for habitat management, particularly for species like Rhesus macaque, are needed for conflict mitigation. He pointed out that species such as Rhesus macaque are also responsible for dispersal of seeds of invasive plants such as Lantana and can affect the success of eradication efforts for these species.

Professor Qureshi started his interaction with questions on the recent population trends of Rhesus macaque and possible reasons and solutions. He explained that their population increases 15-30 % in a year and can double every six to seven years. In their natural habitat, competition for food and presence of predator can keep a check on their population; in the forest a female gives birth every 2-3 years, however in human surroundings with plenty of food and no predator, birth occurs every year. Additionally, providing fruiting trees in such areas will not shift the problem away from humans but will lead to successful reproduction and high population growth. He pointed out that the increasing population in the last two decades is due to easy provisioning of food around human-use areas due to religious offerings and wastage of food.

This has also resulted in shrinking of home range of troops as they do not have to wander far for food and compete for territories. He stated that sterilization of females is a prominent solution; with a target of sterilizing 70 - 80 % of females in the beginning and reducing numbers with time. However, the strategy will take time to show results as the population would crash in 15 years for the species with a life expectancy of 20 – 22 years. He further added that sterilization should continue for five to six years, even when animals are kept in rescue centres. He also briefed that Rhesus macaque along with feral dogs has become a threat for other wildlife, including small mammals and nesting birds. For identification of sterilized animals and need for rescue centres, he suggested methods such as planting a chip or numeric tattoos and establishing at least one centre for two-three forest divisions.

In the next technical session, Mr Uddalak T Bindhani, Research Fellow – WII focused on the behaviour and feeding ecology of Rhesus macaque in human-dominated landscapes and noted various aspects that make them a successful commensal species to humans. He presented results of an ongoing study in and around WII campus and showed how collared macaques are active mainly around human settlements, looking for and foraging on anthropogenic food resources with high calorific content and are easily digestible, less fibrous, and more palatable. Through videos and photographs, he explained the process of capturing Rhesus macaques for biological sampling, collaring and sterilization.

Dr Kafil Hussain, Scientist F -WII described physical restraint and chemical immobilization of the species for population management through surgical sterilization and immunocontraception. He emphasized on releasing captured animals closer to their point of capture and various tools and precautions relating to chemical immobilization and transportation of the animal.

During the field demonstration Mr Uddalak explained various cages used for capture and handling them. Participants learnt appropriate ways to handle and transfer the animals, chemical immobilization, taking morphometric data and biological samples, gathering information for sterilisation, and conducting an ultrasound for pregnant members of the species. It was followed by a hands-on demonstration and training using radio collars, with tracking of collared animals using directional antenna.

The last session of the training dealt with forest fire management, which is a huge challenge for forest personnel from Uttarakhand during dry season and can also cause increased straying of wild animals into villages. Dr GS Rawat explained the forest fire ecology in the dry coniferous forests and grassy slopes in Uttarakhand and how controlled fire has been used as a tool to reduce fuel load in forests in North America and other continents. He noted various abiotic and biotic factors that cause forest fire including wind, vertical and horizontal distribution of fuel (different layers/ canopies), season, soil type etc. He further explained types of fire including ground fire or surface fire and crown or canopy fire, and listed positive impacts of controlled fire such as removal of excess dry grass and biomass from surface leading to sprouting and new growth of forbs and grasses, and regeneration of trees when seeds reach ground. However, uncontrolled fire may lead to mortality of chicks of ground nesting birds.

He emphasised on the use of basic equipment for safety such as helmets, regular maintenance of fire lines, maintaining an area-wise seasonal calendar of fire and the recently proposed studies on the economic assessment of the loss due to forest fire. He listed three principle of fire management viz., i) fire is a good servant but bad master, ii) eliminate ‘bad fire’ and promote ‘good ones’ and iii) fire frequency maps and predictability. He concluded the session with the statement that not all fires are bad and that regular controlled fire before dry seasons can reduce the fuel load from forest and enhance regeneration and new growth of plants needed for sustaining wild herbivore populations.

During the post-demonstration brainstorming and concluding session, the participants noted that knowledge gained, and skills learnt during the training would be imperative for their performance in Human-Rhesus macaque conflict mitigation. They pointed out that scientific knowledge and learnings are crucial for successful habitat management and conflict mitigation and should be incorporated in various strategies of invasive species eradication, forest-fire management, and conflict mitigation.

Dr Pradeep Mehta, Technical Advisor – GIZ said that the functioning of RRT’s in Haridwar-Rajaji-Dehradun landscape could serve as an example in HWC conflict mitigation for other divisions in the state and other Indian states, and emphasized on bringing positive stories to light through various communication activities. Dr Sathyakumar concluded the day with emphasis on knowledge sharing with colleagues, acquaintances, and local communities, and encouraging trust building activities with key stakeholders such as local communities and media for successful HWC mitigation in the state.

Photo credits: Dr. Pradeep Mehta, Dr. Upma Manral (WII) and Dr. Rishi (WII)


About the project

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

For more information contact: biodiv.india@giz.de

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