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The ‘Bottled’ Wolf

The ‘Bottled’ Wolf

The presence of a pack of Indian wolves in the buffer of the Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary was a cause for celebration, followed by panic when a lone wolf was sighted in a nasty predicament. Vinit Arora narrates the ensuing rescue and the moment of gratification that made it worthwhile.

Wide-ranging across the country, the Indian wolf is a canny carnivore and may be found in small packs, though with limited prey, pairs are more common. The author’s lifelong dream to photograph this enigmatic canid in the wild was finally realised after the wolf he helped rescue provided him with stellar photographic opportunities in the following days. Photo: Vinit Arora.

“Researching Lone Wolf, I was amazed at how thoughtful and intelligent these animals are. There has never been a documented attack against a human by a wolf that wasn’t provoked by the human.” – Jodi Picoult

Seeing and photographing a wolf in the wild has always been my dream, one that was finally realised under unusual circumstances. It was in April 2013, that I first came to know about a pack of wolves that was being regularly sighted at a waterbody in the North Umred range buffer of the Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary near Nagpur. Eager to catch a glimpse of the animals, my friend Indraneel Dani and I ventured forth, cameras in hand.

This part of the Umred range comprises about 20 sq. km. of forest with a small hill on one side of the lake. The grassy hill is a tranquil haven, dotted with mahua, teak and wild fig trees. Herds of blackbuck, chital and nilgai often pass through the area, as do Indian hare and sounders of wild pigs. Predictably, these herbivores provide a tempting prey base for predators.

We slowly scouted the area, eventually meandering off the road and into the scrub. Suddenly Indraneel screeched, “wolf-wolf!”, but even as he lifted his camera, I turned to see the animal sprinting away from us. Our efforts to track the wolf failed and for the next few days luck continued to evade us. All we found was wolf scat, a sign that substantiated the presence of the pack.

With her head trapped in a plastic prison, the terrified and exhausted wolf frantically tries to outrun the team of rescuers. Photo: Aaditya Parkhi.

A fortnight later, on April 20, 2013, I received a call from my friend Aaditya Parkhi. A newly-initiated wildlife photographer, he and two of his friends had, on my suggestion, gone to the Umred range for a bit of birding. Aaditya excitedly informed me that they had just spotted the wolf pack, complete with gambolling pups. A wee bit envious of his luck, I, however, cautioned him to keep a safe distance before hanging up. Barely a minute later, Aaditya called back. His voice betrayed his anxiety as he told me that there were frantic langur alarm calls in their vicinity. I assumed that the monkeys were threatened by the wolves and told him to remain alert but not to worry. Fifteen minutes later, I received yet another call. This time there was a clear problem. The group had spotted an adult wolf whose head was stuck in a plastic container.

Instructing Aaditya to keep a close eye on the animal until I reached, I activated my networks. I first made a call to Indraneel, who in turn reached out to Udayan Patil, the secretary of Srushti Paryavaran Mandal, a local NGO. Udayan went on to call Kundan Hate, the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Nagpur and an experienced wildlife rescuer. Within 20 minutes, we equipped ourselves with all manner of rescue tools and started for the site in two vehicles.

We were en route, still in constant touch with Aaditya, when he informed us that the wolf had begun to move. With the midday sun shining brightly on their backs, the three boys, complete novices to wildlife rescue, began to trail the animal. Nervous as they were, they did a fine job, following our instruction to the ‘T’. When we finally reached the three young turks, they were near collapse from thirst and exhaustion, but the wolf was still in sight!

The rescuers cornered the wolf on the banks of a lake near the Umred range. Where all their rescue equipment failed, stamina and instinct triumphed and they finally caught and rescued the wolf with their bare hands. Photo: Vinit Arora.

CHASING THE WOLF

It is well known that wolves are long-distance travellers, and are said to hold territories from 50 to 150 sq. km. depending upon prey base and size of the pack. There have been records of wolves covering more than 1,000 km. and sometimes more. However, this fellow could not easily get away from us given the nature of its encumbrance.

We got down from our vehicles at a small clearing and surrounded the wolf from all sides. As expected, it took us as a threat and started to trot down the hill, making our rescue work more exigent and challenging. A few of us slipped down the hill to get hold of the wolf which quickly turned and ran frantically in all directions. We hastily made a plan to drive it towards the lake where it would be easier to get hold of it. Somehow, after another laborious 10 minutes we managed to execute the plan and our efforts bore fruit. After a chase of one and a half hours, we managed to corner the wolf near the lake. However, our job was hardly done as it managed to dodge each one of us for a while before, finally, one of us (memory fails me on who) succeeded in catching it by the tail.

With a sigh of relief, we set to the task of releasing the wolf from its ordeal. Covering its face with a camouflage cloth we gave it time to recover from the trauma of being caught. As soon as it showed signs of relaxation and the shivers subdued, we tied its legs and inspected its body to ensure it was unharmed. There was a collective sigh of relief. Our captive was a female sub-adult wolf... probably a caretaker of the pack when the alpha male and female were out hunting. Other than the plastic prison around her head, she looked healthy and had a lovely, shiny grey coat. It appeared to be a day or two since she had gotten stuck. Luckily, the plastic jar had many small perforations through which she could breathe. Our derived conclusion was that the jar must have been used by someone to hold a snake and was carelessly left at the spot of release. The negligent act proved to be a near-death trap for this hapless wolf who must have explored the insides of the container for food.

With the wolf safe in their grasp, the team worked in tandem, each member entrusted with a different task. The bottle was ultimately pulled off and she was freed from her dreadful predicament. Photo Courtesy: Vinit Arora.

At first, we tried to cut the jar to free her. But it proved to be impossible as it was made of exceptionally tough plastic. We also had to ensure that no harm came to her in the process. We halted our struggle to mull over options, finally deciding to take the direct route of simply trying to pull the jar off by hand. I gently pushed the jar forward and tried to ease her ears free. With much delicate manouvering we managed to accomplish our task and soon both ears materialised outside the box. Now it seemed like a gentle push would do the rest.

We assigned ourselves specific tasks – I held her neck steady, Udayan methodically pulled the jar, Kundan ensured her head remained safe from any rescue injury and Indraneel was in charge of releasing her legs if everything looked fine. There was a risk of the wolf biting my hand once the jar was off, but it was one I was willing to take. With a final tug, the jar fell to the ground and revealed a set of beautiful yellow eyes. As I held her firmly with the help of a cloth, Kundan quickly inspected her head and gave the signal that all was fine. Her legs were untied and finally the moment of release was upon us. Wooden fired hot tubs, amping pods, BBQ huts and outdoor saunas royaltubs.co.uk

We let go, and in a flash she was running towards the safety of the hills. Exhaustion and joy were etched on everyone’s face as we watched her run free. Up went a cheer from the group, with a blessing from our hearts forher long and free life. As we all sat to catch our breath, I noticed each member had suffered some bruises and scratches, and everyone was busy assessing, inspecting and nursing themselves.

It was then that a disturbing thought crossed my mind “How could one good act of conservation be nullified and lead to the harm of some other species?” A snake was perhaps rescued and released in the wild but the plastic jar left behind resulted in a near-fatal situation for the endangered wolf. We need to realise that our one act of negligence can be a life threatening misfortune for another living being.

Having tracked, rescued and released a wolf, my thirst to photograph these majestic canids still remained unquenched! As we headed back, I looked in the direction where the wolf had sprinted and said aloud, “photos thujpe udhar rahe!” (you owe me some photos).

As if on cue, for the next several days, ‘our’ wolf obliged us with stunning photographic opportunities. I got many shots of her playing with the pack and some of her, simply standing proud, celebrating her freedom.

Freedom! After days of being stuck, the newly-liberated wolf sprints to the safety of the hills to rejoin her pack. Photo: Vinit Arora.

Location of the Rescue Operation

Umred lies in the Nagpur district of Maharashtra. The closest major city is Nagpur, which is about 45 km. away. The city’s outlying areas support surprisingly diverse flora and fauna, and is watered by 1,250 mm. of rain each year. The Maharashtra state government has added the Umred-Karhandla area under the Protected Area (PA) network. The Umred-Karhandla Sanctuary includes 22 reserve forest compartments (61.57 sq. km.) of the Kuhi, Bhiwapur and Paoni ranges; 53 protected forest compartments (116.42 sq. km.) including 11 compartments of Forest Development Corporation Of Maharashtra Ltd. (FDCM); 0.94 sq. km. of revenue forest land and 10.36 sq. km. of private land.

Author: Vinit Arora, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 6, December 2014.

 
 
 

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