Yesterday, five hand-raised, endangered elephant calves were moved from the IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center in Kaziranga to Manas National Park in the northeast Indian state of Assam.
Implemented by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) and its partner organization the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), the release is part of an ongoing effort to integrate orphaned elephants into wild herds in Manas. This critical work is carried out with the support of the Assam Forest Department and the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC).
The calves, one female and four males between the age of three and six years, were rescued under various circumstances from different parts of Assam. All of these calves were separated from their natal herds - two were victims of conflicts with people, one displaced during floods while the remaining two were found in tea gardens. They were admitted to the center because they could not be reunited with their herds.
The elephants were hand-raised by IFAW-WTI veterinarians and animal keepers. The calves were bottle-fed, introduced to each other to facilitate social bonding and went for walks in the forest for opportunities to browse and graze in the wild. Prior to the move, the calves were loaded onto trucks on Sunday and then moved to Manas National Park for in situ acclimatization. At Manas, the behavior of the elephants as individuals as well as their interactions with each other and other wild elephants will be carefully observed and recorded. Once the calves completely detach from their caretakers and return to the wild, they will be monitored through radio-collars.
"We're very pleased to see these elephants walking the forests of Manas National Park. This is a vital step towards their reintegration to the wild but there are still many hurdles to overcome. Our 'soft release' program will allow elephants to gradually become fully independent at their own pace," said Ian Robinson, IFAW Emergency Relief Director.
This relocation is the third time elephant calves have been moved to Manas after undergoing rehabilitation. Previously, eight calves were successfully moved and to this day, four of these calves have established themselves in the wild with evidence of some calves being accepted by wild herds. The project is one of the various conservation initiatives being implemented by the authorities and IFAW-WTI as part of their efforts to bring Manas back to its former glory.
"Manas has always been an area of high conservation priority, as indicated by its status as a national park, a tiger reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surviving a rough phase during the civil unrest when among other losses, its entire population of rhinos was wiped out, and in the face of threats of losing its world heritage status, Manas is now regaining its fame with pro-active initiatives by the government and the people," said Vivek Menon, WTI Executive Director.
In 2006, rhinoceros were brought back to Manas for the first time since the local population was exterminated. In addition to rhino reintroduction and rehabilitation of other key flagships like the tiger and the elephants, IFAW-WTI has also been assisting the Forest Department and BTC authorities in various community-based conservation activities, capacity-building of frontline staff and support to grassroots conservation organizations.