18 Feb, 2021
A two-day training workshop was organised for the forest officials and frontline staff of the forest divisions in the mid-and high-elevation region of Uttarakhand from 17-18 February 2021 by Wildlife Institute of India and Rudraprayag Forest Division, Uttarakhand Forest under the Indo-German Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) mitigation in India project. The workshop on HWC management training on monitoring, tracking, capture and post-capture of Leopards and Bears in Uttarakhand was conducted as part of ‘Knowledge Support to Development of Guidelines, Specialized Field Studies, and Training on HWC mitigation in India’, under the project. 40 participants participated in the training.
The first day of the training workshop was attended by Divisional Forest Officers (DFO) from Rudraprayag, Badrinath, Almora forest divisions, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), Nanda Devi National Park, Joshimath, and Assistant Conservator Forest (ACF) from Rudraprayag along with the team from WII. The workshop aimed at knowledge and experience sharing by the participants on human-wildlife conflict and its mitigation. Dr S Sathyakumar (Scientist G – WII) briefed participants about the project and various outcomes envisaged including the Uttarakhand State HWC strategy and action plan, landscape/division level management action plan and capacity building of frontline staff. He further added that WII as a knowledge partner to the Indo-German project is leading the development of various guiding documents for Uttarakhand and capacity building of the state forest department in HWC management and sought the support of the participants.
Mr Mahatim Yadav (DFO Almora) expressed the challenges faced by the staff in the field including lack of resources and manpower, long working hours, and challenging terrain. Mr Vaibhav Singh (DFO Rudraprayag) added that the recent increase in the number of activists who do not understand the situation on the ground, and the mandate and challenges of the work, have become other major concerns when it comes to HWC management. He further noted that often attacks on humans are accidental or opportunistic. However, the department is pressurized by local representatives and people to remove the animal from the area, at times even with suggestions to kill the animal. Mr Singh pointed out that small interventions such as predator proofing of cattle sheds and wildlife proof barriers built under MGNREGA go a long way in mitigating conflict. He emphasized developing connections between managers and veterinarians posted with other line departments and equipping range-level response teams with tools such as jab stick and blowpipes. Mr NB Sharma (DCF Nanda Devi NP) pointed out that often the correct coordinates or location of rescue is not communicated which causes unnecessary delays in rescue operations. The possibility of aerial rescue of animals in difficult, hard to reach terrains was also discussed
Dr Sathyakumar presented the framework for landscape and/or Divisional level management action plan (MAP) for HWC, the progress so far, and the process for developing the plan in close consultation with State Forest Department and key stakeholders. Mr Singh shared the draft of the HWC management action plan, developed recently for the Rudraprayag forest division. He also highlighted the need for a dedicated campaign with a team of experts and relevant outreach material to sensitise local communities regarding wildlife and conflict mitigation. Participants commented that the MAP framework looked comprehensive and would be a great support in managing HWC within the division.
The second day of the training aimed at the capacity development of the frontline staff from 12 forest divisions of Uttarakhand in managing conflict situations with leopards and black bears. Participants from the first day and 35 personnel ranging from Range Forest Officers to forest guards from Rudraprayag, Tehri, Pauri, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Nanda Devi and Uttarkashi in Garhwal and Bageshwar, Almora, Pithoragarh and Nainital in Kumaun forest circle participated in the training. Participants gained knowledge about the behaviour and ecology of leopards and black bears, and skills regarding their rescue and capture through discussions, case studies, experience-sharing and hands-on training of various tools and equipment.
Dr Dhananjai Mohan (Director-WII) addressed the participants virtually and highlighted the challenges faced by the State Forest Department, particularly frontline staff in mitigating HWC and protecting the state’s wildlife and biodiversity. Dr Sathyakumar presented the case study and shared experience on the extent of human-leopard and human-black bear conflict in Uttarakhand and other Himalayan states. He noted in recent times, conflict with leopard and black bear has increased in many parts of the state, particularly in hilly terrains and that various environmental and anthropogenic factors would further augment the situation across the state. Participants pointed out that degradation of and disturbance in forest habitats, open disposal of food wastes near human settlements and changing lifestyle of local communities are increasing instances of HWC in Uttarakhand. They also discussed changes in the diet patterns of wild predators preferring livestock over wild prey.
Dr Sathyakumar shared the findings from research conducted in the Pauri Garhwal region where leopard density is high and increasing human-leopard conflict (HLC) have become a huge problem for local communities and authorities. He emphasized using modern technologies such as tracking the movement of collared leopards around villages, conflict mapping, fox light, and experimenting with a mix of traditional and advanced mitigation strategies for effective mitigation of conflict. He discussed various management strategies and their effectiveness in mitigating conflict including translocation of captured animals to a new area, use of fox lights with changing the location of light periodically, metal sheet doors instead of wooden doors in cowsheds, aversive or negative conditioning etc. He also noted the recent advances in technology to manage human-bear conflict such as the use of sensors, development in conservation genetics and remote sensing.
One participant shared their experience from the field of a recent incident when their team was chased by a black bear and one personnel was attacked due to changes in the behaviour of bears who did not go in hibernation during winters. RRT members from Tehri divisions shared their experience as a response team and the equipment they used for carrying out various tasks and operations. They also highlighted that the RRT kit and necessary equipment should be easily accessible to the team and they should do regular maintenance of these tools and equipment.
Dr Sanath K Muliya (Project Scientist – WII) spoke with the participants regarding the rescue of a wild animal, situations when intervention is needed, and tools and equipment needed for rescue and safety of personnel involved. He described the model composition of a response team and emphasised defining the roles of each team member. He showed few videos of leopard being rescued with indigenous techniques and of incidents where human error or lack of preparedness led to injury to members of the rescue team. He explained various mechanisms of physical capture of including types of cages, ways to put traps, use of camouflage, kind of baits as per season, maintenance of cages, foot-hold traps, etc. He further explained the mechanism of chemical capture including types of syringes and tranquillizing guns, drugs used and combinations, factors affecting drug response/ dosage, use of photographic tents, to wait before darting, dos and don’ts during rescue operations to ensure the safety of humans and animal, and precautions before releasing the animal.
The second session of the training involved demonstration and hands-on training of various tools and equipment used for animal capture, tracking and monitoring, which are necessary steps for establishing an early-warning system and mitigating HWC. Dr Sathyakumar and Ms Ranjana Pal (Research Scholar-WII) demonstrated various equipment and techniques to the participants and discussed their usage and challenges. These were camera traps, tracking wildlife using radiotelemetry and GPS (Global Positioning System), use of deterrents such as fox lights, compass, and ear tags to mark animals. Dr Sanath K Muliya demonstrated the use of various tools and equipment for physical and chemical restraint of species of interest viz., black bear and leopard. For physical constraint, he demonstrated and provided hands-on training on the use of Aldrich foothold snare for black bear and humane leg hold trap or padded leg hold trap for leopard. Further, he talked about the use and mechanism of remote drug delivery system or darting system and demonstrated various models including DenInject JMSP – a Denmark made equipment and Telinject model GUT.50. He further demonstrated the use of blowpipe and jab stick and preparation of various types of darts, followed by hands-on training. He discussed various drugs to be used and their availability in Indian scenario and noted the importance of the presence and guidance of an experienced veterinarian for successful rescue and capture operations. Mr Abhishek Singh, Chairman – Wild EFFECT demonstrated the use of a locally made, lightweight pepper spray (Bear Spray).
During the post-simulation brainstorming, significant points of discussion included clear communication among RRT and PRT members and the importance of hands-on training and regular mock drills for effectively responding during conflict situations. Mr Singh emphasized regular maintenance of equipment and experience sharing; he also noted the importance of willingness and motivation to perform one’s responsibilities diligently. Mr Ashutosh Singh (DFO-Badrinath) noted that such exposure training focused on rescue of animals and post-capture management are crucial for successful operations on the field and such training is like a refresher course but are more significant as they understand the field situations better now. Mr Yadav applauded the training and resource persons and the enthusiasm shown by the participants. He added that there should be master trainers within the forest department for better reach among large force. The training concluded with a vote of thanks from Dr Sathyakumar and Mr Singh.
The Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation (HWC) project is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in partnership with the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and State Forest Departments of Karnataka, Uttarakhand and West Bengal. The project 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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