Elephant and rhino rescues in India: hope for compassionate conservation

IFAW President, Fred O'Regan, left, feeding elephant calves at IFAW's Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), Assam, India with Vivek Menon, right, Executive Director Wildlife Trust of India.While I was in Assam, India in March, I was thrilled to learn that Soni, a five-year old female elephant, that we rescued, raised by hand and released in Manas National Park, was seen mingling with a wild herd.

That’s a real victory for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as you can see from the coverage in the Indian newspaper, The Telegraph. Rehabilitating elephants and releasing them to the wild is a relatively new practice in India.

Asian elephants in India are in great danger from human-animal conflict and injury when they wander into tea gardens, villages and across roads. Calves also can be separated from their herds as a result of floods and other disasters.

That’s when IFAW steps in to care for the baby elephants until they can survive in the wild. Even then, it is a challenge for the elephants to be accepted into a herd, which is essential for their healthy survival.

Since 2007, we have released 14 elephants in Manas, a wildlife sanctuary that straddles the borders of India and Bhutan. We released five last year alone. So far, Soni, Babu 1 and Hamren have integrated with wild herds.

In March, IFAW, Wildlife Trust of India and Assam Forest Department released Maju and Raja, two orphaned rhinos, in Manas after several years under our care. We have released six rhinos in all.

UNESCO put Manas on its World Heritage in Danger list in 1992 because of severe damages to the ecosystem during a decade of civil unrest. In the 1980s and 1990s, the area lost almost all its 100 rhinos and large numbers of swamp deer, wild buffaloes, elephants and tigers.

The successful efforts by IFAW and its partners to repopulate the park led to UNESCO’s removing the “danger” tag from Manas in 2011, reflecting the revival of the formerly beleaguered area.

And that’s just a wonderful example of IFAW’s vision, where compassion for individual animals, like orphaned elephants and rhinos, also supports conservation of entire populations and ecosystems.

Some people think that the amount of time and money we invest in saving individual animals would be better spent on habitat projects to protect entire populations. But ethical, compassionate conservation requires us to think both of alleviating the suffering of individual animals and ensuring the long-term success of animal populations. 

I am so grateful to IFAW’s donors, who open their hearts to individuals like Soni, but also support IFAW’s work to make sure these individuals can live in secure habitats with healthy animal populations. Thank you.

-- Fred

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy