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Smarter Rescues

While saving wildlife, give them minimum distress

- by Aman Bhatia June 04 2021 

Striped hyena after rescue.jpeg

Wildlife conservationists Chinmay McMassey and Aman Bhatia attend to a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) found wounded in a village in Alwar district

Rescue is to save life!

Yet, when a wild animal faces a human threat and risks losing its life, limb and freedom too, the word ‘rescue’ often misleads. It covers up a less than ideal method of catching the animal and releasing it.

Living at 3 kms distance from Sariska Tiger Reserve’s buffer area in Alwar district, Rajasthan, I have rescued snakes, monitor lizards, leopards, hyenas, monkeys, civets, mongoose, various birds such as spotted owl, scops owl, shikra, koel, barn owl, crows - more than 1500 animals over the last 8 years, as  a wildlife conservationist working with the Rajasthan Forest Department.

Many jump into the work of rescuing wildlife without learning the behaviour, ecology and habitat of the trapped animal. Very different from a proper wildlife rescue, they capture and translocate the animal mistakenly to a place, far from its own habitat. Without following the precaution of checking the rescued animal's overall health condition, translocated animals could transmit diseases from their own area to their new destination.

Reptiles, for example, live very close to where they find food. 4-5 km distance is a lot for them. Their territory can be quite small. Yet many who claim to be snake rescuers or ‘sarpmitra’ (meaning ‘friend of snakes’), capture the snake and release it at a random location elsewhere without any further thought about that snake's survival.

Removing distress

It is true, especially for snakes, that touching or handling them causes them immense distress. Capturing it that way, then holding it up to click photographs while the frantic snake shows aggression, is unfortunately so common. Often, there is no need to touch the wild animal to rescue or release it. I rescued an animal recently without capturing it. I did not take it far away.

An Alwar resident called me at about 10 AM on 13 March 2021 and spoke about “some cat-like animal … looks very dangerous … sitting on our water tank”. This tank on their old building’s terrace is covered all around with cement walls, with just a metal cover on the top. When the caller went on the terrace and opened the metal cover to check the water level in the tank, the animal was sitting over the tank. Frightened, his entire family backed off from going anywhere near the terrace.

After calming the caller down, I drove immediately to their home. I opened the metal cover on the tank and found an Asian Palm Civet there. Quite common in Alwar, these Civets frequently reside in old buildings. Alwar has many old buildings and many green spaces. For decades, Asian Palm Civets are a part of its wildlife. 

Spectacled cobra.jpeg

Rescued & released: spectacled cobra (Naja naja) stuck in the blade wire fencing of a college located in the outskirts of Alwar

Metal cover on the tank .jpeg

Metal cover on the water tank

Water tank beneath the metal cover.jpeg

 Part view of the water tank after removing the metal cover

Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus)

From my education in wildlife conservation and my work experience, I knew Asian Palm Civets are not dangerous. They are nocturnal. They forage for food at night and return to rest in their shelter at sunrise. They feed on rats, so in a sense, they are beneficial. Its presence, however, blocked the caller’s access to the water tank.  I decided not to capture and translocate this Civet away from Alwar, causing it unnecessary distress.

Spotting that the Civet used a hole in the cement wall to enter and exit the covered tank, I requested the caller to seal that hole shut but keep the tank’s top metal cover open so that the Civet could leave for foraging at night. As darkness  set in, the Civet left. After making sure that the whole tank area had no sentient creature inside it, I closed the metal cover. The Civet now had a full night to explore and find a different shelter in this area.

The caller rang the next day to say I solved his close encounter problem with the Asian Palm Civet. He had seen it roaming around the area at night. It was settled and safe, still in the vicinity.  With my experience and common sense, I rescued it without touching it.

Change

To give a trapped wild animal minimum distress, to do a proper rescue, wildlife rescuers need training to learn all the ethics and techniques under qualified professionals.  From August 2018, Dr. Gaurav Choudhury, Dr.Swaroop Sarkar, Neha  Choudhury, Retired Forest Officer Mahesh Vijayavargia and I run the Eco Rescuers Foundation NGO along with 60 other wildlife enthusiasts to do voluntary wildlife and nature conservation work in Alwar and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan.

Eco Rescuers Foundation receives many calls to remove a snake found inside a house. In response, we go there, put a bag near the snake, direct it towards the bag - a safe place to hide - and remove it from the dwelling, releasing it in an agricultural field or estate after convincing the neighbourhood of this safer option. In densely populated urban areas, snakes usually choose abandoned plots or the bank of small streams to live. Reptiles removed from urban areas are released in such a nearest possible safe habitat conducive to the reptile’s survival.

The emphasis is on saving wildlife using methods that give the animal minimum distress.

Gray Mongoose.jpeg

Rescued from a house, a gray mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi) 

Still in the area, Asian Palm Civet, a part of Alwar's wildlife population

Rat snake.jpeg

Aman Bhatia releases a rat snake (Ptyas mucosa) rescued from an urban residence

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WHAT OUR READERS SAY

Suresh Nair 

Indeed an excellent article . Well written. I was always fascinated by these kind hearted humans who go out of their way to rescue animals in distress many times endangering thier own lives in the process.

Dr. Indira Gouthaman

the pictures were perfect - the writing tugging at your heart - yeah...these creatures too have every right to be here - on this Earth - yet, we humans think we are the only race that deserves to be here.