Elephant calf reunited with wild herd in India

A calf that had been found with no discernible congenital deformity or serious injury had been separated from its herd and reunited with the help of the IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Service.

A displaced female elephant calf was rescued near the Pagladiya River on the fringes of the Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary in Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD), Assam. The IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Service team based out of Basbari, Manas National Park responded to the local forest department’s request for assistance. The following is a first-person account by Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury, WTI’s Head Veterinarian (Northeast), of the events that followed. --RGC

When the team reached the location along the Pagladiya River, we were able to conduct a preliminary physical examination of the elephant calf, which we estimated to be two to three months old. Fortunately, I found no discernible congenital deformity or serious injury. We provided oral rehydration salts to stabilise the calf. In conjunction with forest department staff we began investigating the presence of any nearby wild elephant herds. Being able to reunite a displaced elephant calf with her mother or natal herd is the ideal outcome of a rescue situation.

Local community members were of great help and soon located a family of three females and two calves across the river. The family tried to cross the river but could not negotiate the swift current, which was especially dangerous for the young calves. Meanwhile, the rescued calf was beginning to show signs of acute dehydration, so we administered a sedative and intravenous fluids. 

As darkness set in, we drove out of the forest with the calf and encountered a herd of 20-odd elephants. One of the females charged at our vehicles. We decided to take a chance: I reversed the anaesthesia and removed the intravenous line, and helped the team unload the calf and guide her towards the herd.

With the headlights of our vehicles lighting the way, the calf walked about 20 metres before we cut the lights and reversed the vehicles. As the calf cried out, an adult elephant approached her and soon the rest of the herd followed. From a distance, we could soon hear rumbling and other vocalisations from the herd.

The sounds diminished as the herd and the calf disappeared into a thicket near the forest road. We waited at least an hour before we left the area. The next morning we returned to check for any signs of the herd – or the calf, in case she had been rejected.

One of the most encouraging parts of this incident was the demeanour of the local people. They are on the frontlines of human-elephant interaction, bearing crop losses, injuries and even the deaths of their kin. Despite any negative encounters, people all over Assam still worship elephants. Everyone prayed for the elephant calf to be reunited with her mother and it seems their prayers have in some way bore fruit.

Amidst the many upsetting scenarios and conflicts that a conservationist, and especially a wildlife veterinarian, must confront every day, this sort of community attitude provides fresh hope.

--RGC

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