Conserving Sloth bear in Gujarat through community outreach: A long term solution to alleviate the human sloth bear conflict

Sloth bears are found across the Indian sub-continent and 85% of its population lies in fragmented patches in India. Habitat desctruction and increasing anthropogenic pressure are two of the reasons of increasing human-sloth bear interactions.
Our goal is to reduce conflicts in the region by generating positive attitude towards the species and enhancing tolerance amongst people living in the sloth bear habitat.
We started our work by studying the distribution and status of sloth bear and understanding the reasons for conflicts in Gujarat, the western most limit of sloth bear distribution. To study the human dimension, we have scientifically assessed the perception of locals towards sloth bear in comparison to other wild animals and found that the local people are highly hostile for sloth bear. Our awareness campaigns among the tribal villages gave some encouraging results; this shows that there is a need to inculcate positivity and enhance the tolerance of locals towards the species. This can be achieved through providing true and scientific information about the species by involving the locals in the conservation work. We would like to initiate the community outreach programme in areas of high human-sloth bear conflcits in Gujarat. These programmes are aimed for initial two years at the conservation outreach center and train the locals, EDC members and Eco-Guides so that the outreach will sustain in future. Following are the activites we would like to do in this programme;
1.A state of the art Conservation Outreach Center to display all information about sloth bear.
2.To publish and circulate small pocket booklets on sloth bear among the local people.
3.Science based conservation education to children in the tribal schools.
4.Organizing Training of Trainers (volunteers and teachers) to disseminate scientific information about sloth bear.
5.Spreading conservation messages with the help of audio-visuals, signages, posters and fliers.

Monitoring wildlife snaring in Southeast Asia and a review of related legislation

Poaching wildlife with snares is considered a primary driver of declines in tropical forest vertebrates in Southeast Asia. There is no standard method for monitoring snaring patterns over space and time and assessments rely largely on expert opinion and anecdotal data. Legislation restricting the use of snares is generally regarded as insufficient in Southeast Asian countries, however there has been no formal review to summarize strengths and weaknesses. We will create a baseline measure of snaring prevalence in Southeast Asian IUCN protected areas. We will gather data from a representative sample of IUCN protected areas within 11 Southeast Asian countries using a standardized questionnaire sent to biologists with first-hand knowledge of each protected area. With this questionnaire, we will generate information on the status of wildlife snaring across core habitat in Southeast Asia and highlight at-risk areas where there are high levels of snaring and low levels of law enforcement. Our questionnaire will be a platform with which to monitor trends in wildlife snaring over time. A review of national legislation pertaining to wildlife snaring will identify gaps or weaknesses and lead to recommendations for improvement.

Restoring hornbill habitats in Arunachal Pradesh

Pakke Tiger Reserve and the adjoining Reserved Forests in Arunachal Pradesh, India are spread over an area of more than 2000 km2 and harbor a diverse array of plant and animal species. It is known as a haven for 4 hornbill species in India. Human activities like hunting, illegal logging, particularly outside Pakke, are negatively affecting hornbill populations and their habitat. Habitat loss due to logging is a major threat to hornbills that are dependent on large trees for nesting. This area has experienced amongst the highest rates of forest loss for India in the recent past.

With the restoration program, we hope to bring back some of the lost hornbill habitats (by bringing back hornbill food and nest trees) and secure the long-term future of these birds and other wildlife. To this end, rainforest nursery was set up in 2013 in a village near Pakke, with an aim of raising native rainforest tree species and using them to restore the degraded forest patches in and around the area. The tree species selected are important food and nest trees of hornbills and for other birds and mammals and also includes economically important species for planting by the local communities. In the past four years, we have raised around 17,000 saplings of 60 native tree species. Planting began in 2016 and a total area of 11 ha has been covered so far. Survival monitoring indicates 45-85% survival across the sites in a year’s time. Some sites show higher survival (84%) due to controlled conditions like fencing and deweeding. With such successful rate of establishment of the saplings, there is a hope for recovery of these habitats in the long-term. We hope to expand this program and cover more degraded patches in and around Pakke in the coming years.

Hornbill Nest Adoption Program

The Hornbill Nest Adoption Program (HNAP) is a community-based conservation initiative, through which local tribal villagers protect nest trees of hornbills in forests around villages on the fringe of the Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunchal Pradesh, India. This area is a haven for hornbills, harbouring four of the nine species found in India – Great Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, Rufous-Necked Hornbill and Oriental Pied Hornbill. However, these populations are threatened by anthropogenic activities, such as hunting (for meat, casque and feathers) and illegal logging. In response to these severe threats to hornbills occuring outside the Protected Area, HNAP was started in 2012, in partnership with the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department and the Ghora-Aabhe Society (a local NGO). We currently have 11 local Nest Protectors monitoring and protecting 37 hornbill nests. From 2012 – 2018, 119 hornbill chicks have successfully fledged from our nests. Funds raised from urban donors and zoos who ‘adopt’ hornbill nests go towards paying the salaries of these local villagers, their field equipment and a certain percentage is also set aside each year for community welfare and developmen

King Cobra conservation through conflict mitigation and community empowerment in the Eastern Ghats.

The Eastern Ghats are a stretch of discontinuous hill ranges extending along the east coast of South India. They abound in several species of snakes including the iconic King Cobra Ophiophagus hannah which is the longest venomous snake in the world. It is has been assessed as “Vulnerable” under the IUCN Red List. They are also legally protected in India under the Wildlife Act, 1972. However, several adult king cobras are indiscriminately killed on sight by local people every now and again each year throughout the North Eastern Ghats region. This indicates a deep intolerance among people and lack of measures to prevent such incidents. Many other snake species that form the very prey base for the King Cobra are also killed due to fear and ignorance.
Likewise, venomous snakes kill more than 50,000 people each year in India and the World Health Organization also categorized snake bite as a neglected tropical disease. Unfortunately, most of the bites happen in rural areas where people have no knowledge or necessary skills to deal with snake encounters and get bitten while trying to kill the snake or accidentally stepping on it at night.
The project will work towards conserving King Cobras as well other threatened ophiofauna by habitat protection, education and community engagement in the affected areas of the North Eastern Ghats. We will a) provide on-the-ground solutions to mitigate human-snake conflicts, and b) incorporate indigenous knowledge of wildlife by training chosen local tribes as “parabiologists” in basic survey techniques and snake rescue methods who can eventually go back to their communities and help them when issues arise as well as assist us in conservation efforts. We will also collect baseline data on the species population distribution and habitat suitability to develop a management strategy for king cobra conservation in the region.