The birth of 32 pythons over a three-day hatching spell was a sight wildlife staff and researchers at the Laokhowa-Burhachapori wildlife sanctuary in Nagaon district would never forget.
But this instance of perfect conservation dynamics was no coincidence; it was the culmination of years of efforts to educate people, especially those residing in villages on the fringes of protected areas, about the need to protect and conserve wildlife.
The clock started ticking on June 16, when a 15-foot female python laid 38 eggs in the backyard of primary schoolteacher Kartik Sarkar’s house in Haribhanga Beelpar village on the fringe of Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary. Sarkar immediately informed the forest staff of the Gorajan range of the sanctuary.
The forest staff and a research team belonging to the Laokhowa Burhachapori Wildlife Conservation Society, an NGO, received total cooperation from the villagers as they began the process of relocating the python and her eggs. While the mother was released into the wild in Burhachapori wildlife sanctuary, the eggs were kept in a controlled environment in the sanctuary and monitored continuously by the research team.
The eggs started hatching three days ago. Today, 32 newborn pythons were released in a suitable habitat inside the sanctuary.
“Since pythons do not incubate their eggs, we were confident most of the eggs would eventually hatch provided these were closely monitored and protected from their natural predators. Usually, most eggs end up being eaten by monitor lizards, civet cats and mongoose, among others,” said Prasanta Bordoloi who was part of the research team along with Samarjit Ojah.
Though the Burmese rock python is widely found in the Northeast, the success of this effort was proof that awareness is the key to wildlife conservation.
“Such dynamics are very rare. The rescue of the python and the successful hatching of such a large number of eggs and their release in the natural habitat need to be cheered. Laokhowa and Burhachapori wildlife sanctuaries are ideal for undertaking such research and documentation. The Nagaon wildlife division and the society thank the fringe villagers for informing us about the snake and its eggs and for their active cooperation in the rescue operation,” said P. Sivakumar, divisional forest officer of the Nagaon wildlife division, which administers the Laokhowa and Burhachapori wildlife sanctuaries.
“The role played by the villagers in informing the forest staff is commendable. This was possible only because of increased awareness,” said Firoz Ahmed, a wildlife biologist with Aaranyak.
“Such positive cooperation from fringe village residents are critical for wildlife conservation in Assam,” Sivakumar added.
Sometime back, based on information provided by the villagers, a binturong, a rare and critically endangered species, was rescued from a village on the fringe of Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary. It was treated for minor injuries at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation, Kaziranga, and later released back in the wild.
Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary, with an area of 70.1 square km, is situated on the south bank of the Brahmaputra. It was declared a reserve forest in 1907 and upgraded to a wildlife sanctuary in 1979. Burachapori wildlife sanctuary is just north of Laokhowa. It was declared a reserve forest in 1974 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1995 and is spread over 44.06 square km. Both sanctuaries are part of the Kaziranga-Orang riverine landscape, which has been identified as a major gateway for straying animals within the protected areas of central Assam.
It will be a moment to treasure for the 40 members of the Pakke tiger reserve strike force on Monday when they get thank you cards from across the world in recognition of their impeccable wildlife protection record.
They received the third highest number of messages in the world, preceded only by a tiger reserve in Indonesia and Kanha in India. After all, theirs is a record that is not easy to beat — keeping the reserve free of poachers since the force’s inception in 2008.
Each card, received from various corners of the globe as part of WWF-India’s Cards4tigers campaign (panda.org/cards4tigers), is a pat on the back for each of these ex-armymen and local youths who have kept poachers at bay since they stepped out into the jungle five years ago.
In a postcard from New Zealand, Liam O’ Connor said, “I think you are doing a wonderful job in trying to stop poaching.”
In another from Australia, Nyla and Vernon Vaz said, “Thank you for protecting our forests, our wildlife and especially our tigers from poachers and from all other threats and dangers they face.”
The event is the Global Tiger Day that is observed annually on July 29 to raise awareness about and support for conservation of wild tigers. Several countries, including India, Bhutan, China, Nepal and the UK, are observing the day with various activities.
WWF-India is holding five events simultaneously in four tiger landscapes to honour forest guards as well as to raise awareness regarding the challenging work they do for tiger conservation. All events are being held jointly with the forest departments concerned.
In Arunachal Pradesh, parliamentary secretary (department of science and technology) N. Rebia, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) N.N. Zhasa and Pakke tiger reserve divisional forest officer Tana Tapi will attend the event. Students will present the postcards received from around the world to the strike force members.
The venue for the two-day programme will be the V.K.V. Boys School at Seijosa near the reserve. On July 28, various competitions, including skit, painting and story writing, have been planned involving students from four schools near Pakke. The prizes will be awarded the same day.
“We intend to bring young students and the hard-working strike force on one platform so that they can exchange knowledge. The students will also become aware about the efforts being made to protect the very important wildlife reserves,” Pallavi Chakraborty, project officer (species) WWF-India, North Bank Landscape Programme, Tezpur, told The Telegraph.
Pakke wildlife sanctuary is located in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh and continues south, connecting to Nameri tiger reserve in Assam. It was declared a tiger reserve in 2002 by National Tiger Conservation Authority of India and is the 26th tiger reserve in the country. Six individual tigers were camera-trapped in the reserve during a recent monitoring exercise conducted by the forest department and WWF-India.
Development activities, poaching and indiscriminate illegal logging, leading to habitat loss, are some of its most prominent threats. But the forest personnel have never let these factors harm wildlife in the reserve.
“A ‘strike force’ comprising former army personnel and local youth, well versed in guerrilla warfare and having extensive knowledge of jungle craft, had been set up as a quick action team. They have done a good job of protecting the reserve. Most importantly, there has been no poaching incident in the reserve in the past five years,” Tapi said.