IFAW India: Clouded leopards collared and set free
Last Sunday, I set-off on a mission to document the collaring of two rescued clouded leopards. The two orphans were rescued last year and spent 8 months undergoing rehabilitation provided by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and local partners the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in collaboration with the Assam Forest Department and the Bodo Territorial Council. The radio-collars will help rehabilitators track the movement of the cubs as they become completely independent of human care and begin exploring on their own.
Since this was the first known instance of clouded leopards being rehabilitated and radio-collared in India, the collaring event was quite important. For me it was even more important as I had to post my first blog. I was a bit apprehensive as I hardly observe wildlife while I’m filming. Most of the wildlife I have seen has been through the viewfinder of my camera. When taking pictures, I don’t observe wildlife. My entire observation of the subject is from a photographic perspective – I am looking at the camera angle, the light, framing the subject, the elements to include in the frame. With all this running through my mind, I actually forget to observe the splendor of a flamboyant bird or the tantrums of a cub.
This was no exception. As my assignment was to take pictures of the collaring event of the clouded leopards, I thought I’ll divide my attention and observe, so that I can write about my experience.
I woke up to a cool and beautiful morning and started wrapping up my camera and equipments anticipating a good travel inside the forest. A cold wind hitting against me hinted the advent of rain. I was so disappointed to see the colour of the sky which was turning black as the wind grew fast. It was followed by a heavy rain for nearly half an hour. Anticipating the worse we started our journey equipped with all sorts of water proof sheets. We were hoping for the rain to stop by the time we reach the rehab site which was about 56 kms from Kokrajhar. There was only feeble sunlight occasionally trying to break through the clouds. I was happy to see the change of colour of the sky as we passed through a green meadow with the Bhutan hills in the backdrop. It was quite scenic with patches of clouds in the blue sky. Eventually the weather cleared up.
The journey into the forest was challenging as the forest track is not well maintained and is passable only with the use of 4 x 4s during the monsoon. The area being prone to insurgency, security was provided by the SSB (Sashastra Seema Bal, one of India's paramilitary forces) all along the forest track.
On reaching the site we went inside the forest. The forest was echoed by the sound of crickets and other bugs. Ripu Reserve Forest is itself quite pleasant, with tall shady trees. Its diversity is perhaps one of the richest in the north eastern states. It has a very good prey base for clouded leopards as golden langurs, macaque, jungle fowl, barking deer, squirrels are found here. Where else can we find such a safe heaven for the cubs?
As we approached the enclosures, we saw the clouded leopards for the first time. They were enjoying themselves. As they felt our presence, they started head-butting on the walls of the enclosure, as if they were welcoming the last phase of rehabilitation – radio collaring.
IFAW-WTI veterinarians Dr. Bhaskar and Dr. Panjit quickly set up their equipments. Dr. Panjit took the first shot with the blow dart to tranquilize the first cub. Startled by the dart, he quickly fell numb. Nath, the “surrogate mother” of the cubs, carried the cub out of the enclosure that stands atop a 12 feet high platform enclosure. The vets quickly fitted the collar to the cub and mounted with radio transmitter. All other necessary health checkups were done within a short time and the cub was ready to be released!
The cubs recovered gradually from sedation after being radio collared. They were crawling in the floor of the enclosure, shaky and slow. A keeper offered them water. The cubs seemed restless to see lots of people and we thought it might not be too pleasant for us to stay there any longer. But I believe that all of us felt the same and were quite satisfied with having spent a few quiet moments with these clouded leopards.
To learn how you can help these leopards and other wildlife rescues around the world, please visit: www.ifaw.org.