Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release: Never Perfect, Always a Risk

IFAW-WTI staff working to release one of the Asian elephant calves.

IFAW and our partners, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), have been engaged this past week in the final step of a multi-year rehabilitation process, which was to culminate in the release of six elephants from Kaziranga Rehabilitation Center to the Manas Conservation Reserve.

We lost one of the elephants, Deepa, a six-year old female who died just before she was to be moved. The other five elephants were successfully relocated to Manas. Deepa had been cared for by WTI staff in Kaziranga since she was orphaned at three months of age.

I can only imagine how sad these caregivers feel after six years of caring for Deepa, spending whole days and even nights with her, bottle feeding her, taking her for walks in the forest. My family recently lost our dog of thirteen years and we simply cannot even discuss it. It leaves a big hole in your life and I know that Deepa has left a similar emotional vacuum. We all share in the sadness.

An autopsy was performed on Deepa by four veterinarians who concluded that she died of congestive heart failure. This was the second time we attempted to move Deepa, the first attempt happened in 2008 with another group, however at that time, she was found to not be medically fit for the journey. This time, all of the elephants, by protocol, were given an examination by a veterinarian and found to be in proper health to make the trip, unfortunately Deepa succumbed to respiratory problems just before being moved.

As we take great pains to assure the health and protection of animals being released (three veterinarians made the trip to Manas), all of our animal relief staff are distraught about the loss. This was our third move of elephants to Manas and Deepa was our first and only loss.

Our moving of elephants is not confined to India. In Malawi this past year, we moved eighty-three elephants threatened by human conflict to a secure reserve over 240 kilometers with no fatalities. Frankly, I find the success we have had in these moves to be quite astounding. Moving huge animals is exceedingly difficult, and our success is a credit to the skills and dedication of the staff on the ground who carry out these amazing logistical tasks.

What we all must keep in mind is this explanation by Dr. Ian Robinson, IFAW's Emergency Relief Director:

"We only move animals in cases where they are injured, orphaned or have had their health and safety compromised. Our first choice when encountering injured wildlife is to treat the animal in the field and help it to rejoin its family. Unfortunately, Deepa could not rejoin her natal herd so we had to care for her at the Center in the hope that we could integrate her into a wild herd when she was older."

Working with people like Dr. Ian Robinson and Vivek Menon, Director of WTI (one of the world’s foremost experts on elephants), I know the great lengths they go to in order to ensure the greatest degree of safety and security that they can.

No doubt, there is stress in these moves and they will never be perfect. That is why we only undertake these moves when it constitutes the best, or only, chance to overcome the threats animals face and to reintegrate them back to where they belong – not in cages (of whatever size) but in the wild. My advice to staff has been "yes, let’s grieve for an unfortunate incident with a great animal, but let’s get right back to work helping other animals in crisis."

-- FO

For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare efforts to save animals in crisis around the world, visit www.ifaw.org

Comments: 19

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

Deepa's loss is profound and our hearts break for her passing. It is so very uplifting to think of the great work and care that went into her too-short lifetime by so many amazing and devoted people. Thank you. Thank you for all you do. God bless.

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

What lovely people you are to care so much about our treasured animals. I envy that you all can take the heart break and turn it into such wonderful happiness of us hearing of it and the animals involved. God be with you and the caretakers whom protect and care for the gentle animals of the world....

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

Poor baby...I guess she died of a natural death, however, there are many elephants out there that are in great danger of man, having their tusks and feet cut off, a devastating ordeal for those around them who come across such an ordeal...they are such a protective animal of their own...not long ago there was a female who rounded up her herd, including babies and stood in front of them to fight off their attackers, only to be slain along with all the others...As the lady above said...'they are such a gentle giant'...we need NEVER to attend a carnival, circus, zoo, or anywhere they have caged animals in unnatural environments! THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU DO TO PROTECT ANIMALS IN DANGER OF MAN!!!!

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

I am so sorry for the loss of Deep. I love elephants, and we also lost one of our deeply loved animal family members. It is extremely painful. Keep up the good work you are doing. We are making a difference!

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

Thank you for the moving update on Deepa. I am so sorry for her loss, and the sorrow of the staff.

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

I can hardly imagine the sorrow of Deepa caretakers. I didnt know her, and I'm sad for her lost. So the sorrow in the hearts of those who took so good care of her since she was 3 months old must be excruciating. I'm part of an animal rescue group in the city where I live. And everytime one dies, no matters how much efforts we've made, we always go over and over about what we did wrong or what could we have done differently, or what if ... At the end, the only solace I find is to never forget the one who just died, and to transform that pain in energy and hope for all the others who still need my help, most of them I havent met yet.

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

I love Elephants..such a gentle giant. I read about how if they find bones of other elephants they pick them up and examine them...wow..I have heard how protective they are and amazingly sensitive. Why do people do this to them..it is a terrible atrocity that these and other animals are not treated the way God intended us to...."He said Take care of the animals" Thank you for all the good work you do for them.

 
Anonymous
5 years ago

So sorry to hear about the loss of Deepa. She was to young to die. I hope the rest of the pack, have a better life.

 
Anonymous
6 years ago

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