MAFSU set to play major role in Wildlife Conservation

India is blessed in terms of bio-diversity. Our forest types are varied and water bodies are salty, fresh or both. All creatures, great and small, inhabit them. Asiatic elephants, snow leopards, hangul, red pandas, malabar grey hornbills, vultures, king cobras, olive ridley turtles, gharials, orcas, our country have them all. A visit to Indian jungles is an unparalleled experience. India has more than 70 national parks and about 440 wildlife sanctuaries including the bird sanctuaries as heritage. Besides their aesthetic, ecological and environmental value, in a country born of the Vedas, wild fauna and flora here also have mythological and cultural value.

Those who have travelled in Maharashtra will agree that this is a land of stunning beauty and diversity. We have the Sahyadris that rise out of the Arabian Sea, a rich coastal life and forests populated by giant squirrels, yellow footed green pigeons, bison, Great Indian Bustard, tigers, flamingos, pit vipers and a stunning variety of birds and insects. Marine creatures including sharks, dolphins, turtles, fish and crabs and birds have found a home in the environs and ramparts of the famous Sindhudurg fort, once the power behind navy of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Much of Maharashtra’s biodiversity is now protected by a network of national parks, tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. These have tremendous opportunities for wildlife conservation, research and sustainable tourism. The geographical area of Maharashtra state is 3,07,713 sq. km of which 61,916 sq. km is under forest cover constituting 20.12 per cent of the total land mass. Eighty five species of mammals and 460 species of birds inhabit this rich biodiversity of Maharashtra.

The United Nations Framework for Climate Change has advised that protecting natural ecosystems is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing the threat of a changing climate. Maharashtra, has taken concrete steps to involve local communities in conservation efforts. A prototype of sustainable tourism and conservation has been demonstrated by the villages of Sinhagad, where Rs. 1.7 crores have been generated as revenue from visitors, without harming the delicate bamboo ecosystem. In Nagzira, Melghat, Pench and Tadoba, local communities are an integral part of eco-tourism and safaris, with integrated habitat conservation and eco-development in Vidarbha tiger landscape being a massive, multi-tier project. This encourages conservation and the revenue generated for the forest associated communities negatively impacts poaching efforts, making these rural communities the safe guards of the forest.

Vidarbha takes pride in crowning Nagpur, the centre of the country, the ‘Tiger Capital’ of the world! Within three-hour drive from Nagpur city, in almost any direction, one is officially in Tiger territory: from Tadoba in the south, Pench and Nagzira in the north, to Bor in the west. Once of Military importance, the Narnala fort in Akola is now part of the Melghat Tiger Reserve, where a tigress with her cubs has taken refuge.

Wildlife conservation and judicial procedures are incomplete without the technical contributions of wildlife veterinarians. Biodiversity conservation today, is a much broader concept- the ‘One Health’ approach. It takes into account social, economic, political and biological variables which influence health issues, acknowledging that the only ways forward are inter-disciplinary solutions involving human and animal welfare while simultaneously preserving ecosystems. In this scenario, veterinarians stand out as highly trained individuals who specialise in medicine and are also uniquely qualified to diagnose and assess disease impact on public health as well as on individuals, populations and entire biomes. Today, animal welfare can be scientifically assessed to determine the quality of life of individuals, a field in which behavioural assessment and behavioural enrichment are fundamental tools.

Roles of veterinarians in wildlife conservation include health assessment, surveillance and monitoring for feral and domestic animal populations, studying and identifying factors which affect wildlife population dynamics, development and implementation of new health care technologies and methods, applied research in preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic health care for wildlife species, upgrading methods of animal handling, husbandry, nutrition, animal transport and pest control, scientific biological data collection, analysis and management, pivotal role in captive breeding programs, disease risk analysis, creation of health screening and quarantine protocols for wildlife translocation projects, management of emerging disease, guidelines and policy development at local, national and international levels and training of field personnel to expand their skills in addressing wildlife health issues.

With increased deforestation and urbanization, the incidences of wildlife-man conflicts are on the rise. The situation of leopard, tiger, sloth bear etc. entering the localities and thereby creating threats to human as well as to the wildlife itself, has become a common scene all over the country. The rescue and rehabilitation are other areas which have brought the veterinarians in focus and the society is expecting the veterinarians a major role in such situations.

Established in the year 2000, the Maharashtra Animal and Fishery Sciences University completed 19 years of fruitful existence. The university is not only engaged in teaching, research and extension but also planning a complementary role and strengthen National effort in conservation of wildlife of our country. MAFSU signed a MoU with the FDCM Ltd., Nagpur for wildlife conservation and welfare. The Wildlife Research & Training Centre (WRTC) established in the year 2015, as a joint venture institute with the technical staff under the control and administration under the MAFSU, whereas the infrastructure to be provided by the FDCM Ltd., Nagpur. The central location of WRTC, Gorewada, Nagpur, with adjoining various forest reserve areas, and the strength and contribution of the faculty of the WRTC in the wildlife health management, it is highly expected that this Centre will go a long way in wildlife health, processing veterolegal samples of wildlife and also strengthen research and education links particularly in wildlife management.

The major aim of the WRTC is to provide inputs for in-situ and ex-situ conservation programme and health initiatives being presented to any population benefit consideration as well as issue relating to the viability and sustainability of services provided and preparation of database on diagnostic methods and healthcare. The objective is to undertake training of field vets and State Forest Department officers to have requisite technical competence in management of free ranging and captive wildlife.

WRTC is am fully functional entity and the requirement of dedicated staff has been fulfilled partially coupled with blend of experienced staff from the Nagpur Veterinary College additionally. Besides healthcare of the wildlife of rescue Centre, the Centre has undertaken various activities such as instructions to the undergraduate and intern students of veterinary faculty and Rescue Centre staff, wildlife awareness programmes such as organization of lectures at schools of Nagpur, drawing and essay competition, rallies etc. Various training programmes are being organized in near future for the field veterinarians for creating competent wildlife veterinarians. The research in the much needed areas of wildlife conservation, healthcare and forensics would be taken up once the WRTC is equipped with all required equipment.

I wish the Team WRTC a grand success in achieving its aims and objectives.