February 2012: On November 25, 2011, two Rapid Response Units (RRUs) were delivered to the Kanha Tiger Reserve. The off-road vehicle was supported by three motorbikes and equipment that now enables field staff to handle poaching gangs, deal with man-animal conflicts, safely tranquillise and transport carnivores and dispense emergency first aid.
Such tools will hopefully become standard equipment for every sanctuary and national park in India. Right now, this vital input is being made available to protect the wild landscapes of Pench (Madhya Pradesh), Tadoba (Maharashtra), Ranthambhore and Sariska (Rajasthan), Anamalais (Tamil Nadu) and Parambikulam (Kerala).
The outcome of a national campaign to win support for the tiger, serious on-the-ground strength has been added to India’s field staff in wildlife areas that harbour source populations of tigers. The RRUs have been assembled by the Wildlife Conservation Trust, headed by Dr. Anish Andheria and the funds came from a massive national campaign jointly conducted by NDTV and Aircel. The campaign culminated in a ‘Telethon’ on December 12, 2010, which exhorted the nation to donate money to protect our vanishing tigers. Within 24 hours, a sum of Rs. 19.9 million was raised, and to this was added a personal donation of Rs. 25 million by Hemendra Kothari, Chairman, DSP Blackrock Investment Managers Pvt. Ltd. When asked what motivated him he said: “I want tigers protected. Properly protected. I want all those with resources to add to the government’s strength, so before asking anyone else, I thought it best to take the first step myself.”
What lies within?
The heart of the RRU is a four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle, supported by three motorcycles, an immobilisation unit for carnivore rescues, jungle survival gear, life-saving first aid supplies including a venom pump that gives a victim critical time to reach a hospital, walkie-talkies, searchlights, shields and protective gear as protection against unruly crowds and more.
The first aid kit, stretcher, megaphone and other crowd control and safety equipment are particularly beneficial for conflict and emergency situations. Often when speaking about equipping a department, people forget the comfort of individuals working for the cause. The RRU therefore also includes personal effects for guards – shoes that can handle rough terrain, camouflage jackets to keep them warm and concealed, injury proof jackets, woolen socks and hats, helmets and rucksacks. The Unit allows 11 forest personnel to reach a site urgently and for six personnel to spend four to five days in the forest without needing to return to base camp for refills.
For more information on the Rapid Response Units that are being deployed across India go to:
Engaging with people
Handing over equipment is never enough. The WCT team spent time with the Forest Department after giving them the RRUs to show them how to use the equipment included in the unit and to train forest guards how to effectively respond to crises using the tools they had been given. More specifically, the sessions took them through protection protocol and how to conduct wildlife rescues and contain mobs to ensure that no harm came to animals or people.
The Department was also shown how to maintain the vehicle, doing so will be their responsibility but will be closely monitored by WCT. Further trainings for the next generation of Rapid Response Teams utilising the RRU will also be conducted by the Department, once again with the support of WCT.
Thirty five RRUs are scheduled to be donated to 26 reserves in 12 states. As of now, 10 have been handed over – two to Kanha, one to Pench (Madhya Pradesh), two to Tadoba, two to Ranthambhore, one to Sariska, one to Anamalais and one to Parambikulam. The next 16 will be reaching Dudhwa, Bandhavgarh, Bandipur, Bhadra, Dandeli, Melghat, Mudumalai, Nagarahole, Panna, Pench (Maharashtra), Periyar, Sanjay, and Bori-Satpuda Tiger Reserves before February 10, 2012.
With over 50 per cent of the world’s wild tigers left in India, our country has a massive responsibility towards the striped cats. The custodians of our water supply, their protection is not something we can dismiss as a luxury. Protecting our people is synonymous with tiger conservation and this is a value that must be imbibed in all government policies. The work that WCT is doing – an effort enabled by Indians, both here and from overseas, is a shining example of how much we can achieve as a nation if we are truly committed to uplifting poverty and spurring sustainable development.