Orphans With A Family
Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury presents a short account of what might just be the first-ever successful reintegration of rehabilitated elephant calves into a wild herd in Assam.
Photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee, IFAW-WTI.
Two months is a relatively short amount of time in an elephant’s lifespan.
But when two rehabilitated juvenile females, Tora and Rani, were monitored travelling with wild elephants for a period of over 60 days, we celebrated it as an extremely important milestone: this could likely become the first-ever successful reintegration of rehabilitated elephant calves into a wild herd in Assam.
BACK TO THE JUNGLE
The IFAW-WTI Elephant Rehabilitation Project was launched in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department in 2007. Since then, 19 rescued elephant calves have been hand-raised at the project’s rescue centre in Kaziranga National Park before being translocated to Manas National Park in Assam for rehabilitation. Nine elephant calves, varying from nine months to 38 months in the release habitat, are currently being monitored through radio telemetry.
Rehabilitating elephant calves is a complex process; the overall success rate stands at 47.3 per cent. But for me it is the release and post-release monitoring that is the most challenging, decisive phase – wherein the hard work of nursing a month-old calf till it is about three to four years old begins to bear fruit.
Assimilation and integration of hand-raised calves, deprived of normal social interaction during infancy, is critical for these animals to learn the long-term survival and reproductive skills from a society of wild elephants.
In the past eight years, the IFAW-WTI Elephant Rehabilitation Project team has documented such assimilation on four occasions, but these lasted only for a couple of days. Calves were found alone during later sightings.
A SECOND CHANCE AT LIFE
Both Rani and Tora were about two months old when they were rescued, albeit two years apart. They were translocated and released in Manas together, when Rani was two years and eight months old, and Tora was four and a half years old. When Jakhala, the eldest elephant released with these two, refused to associate with them, we despaired of their chances of rehabilitation.
From the second week of April 2015, however, we began to see Tora and Rani’s tracks along with those of a family of wild elephants. Finally, on April 17, 2015, our keepers Maheshwar Basumatary and Madhab Doimari managed to record a video of the calves moving along with the wild herd at Kalapani.
More evidence was collected in June. The elephant family has 10-15 individuals with at least four very young calves. This has probably helped us track them, since they have not moved too far or too quickly. Following them in the thick mixed moist deciduous and semi-evergreen forest and terai grasslands has made it easier for trackers on foot.
Our monitoring of Rani and Tora will continue through the monsoon rains. Meanwhile, we celebrate this as yet another important step in ‘Bringing Back Manas’ – IFAW-WTI’s endeavour to restock the sanctuary’s lost wildlife and restore it to its former glory as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury is Head Veterinarian at IFAW-WTI’s Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga National Park.
Author: Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 8, August 2015.