Mud On Boots: December 2022

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 43 No. 2, February 2023

Sanctuary’s Mud on Boots
Bimonthly Updates for November-December 2022

To New Beginnings!

In October 2022, Amir Kumar Chhetri and Priyanka Das’s (Amir’s mentor and colleague) independent proposal titled ‘Addressing the underlying driver of human-elephant negative interaction in northern West Bengal’ was selected for the current batch of the Coexistence Consortium fellowship. Following this, they visited the University of Trans-Disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology (TDU) in Bengaluru for a month-long course. This was a wonderful opportunity for Amir and Priyanka to brush up on old knowledge and learn new concepts while socialising with others working in the conservation sector.

Incidentally, this trip revealed one of the most important markers of the true success of Amir’s project in Panijhora forest village, West Bengal – the village committee, created under his leadership, routinely maintained and efficiently monitored the community-owned solar-powered fences in his absence. Between November and December, bull elephants broke the solar-powered fences 11 times, and each time the committee members patiently repaired them. After returning home in December, Amir collected data from farmers on crop yields. He and his colleagues at the Coexistence Project are curating and studying the data to get insights into the impacts of solar-powered fence installation on crop harvests.

Additionally, Amir and Priyanka are using Rs. 25,000, a part of the Mud on Boots Project grant, to create a short video documenting Amir’s work in Panijhora. This video will be used as resource material during future awareness talks to share his experiences and learnings gained while leading the construction, monitoring, and maintenance of the solar-powered fence in his village. The video, which will be created by Green Hub, Tezpur, will be shot in March 2023.

Amir Kumar Chhetri and Priyanka Das during one of their field visits in the Dooars, West Bengal. Photo Courtsey: Priyanka Das.

Of Langurs And Seeds

In Chamba, Vishal Ahuja has slowly but steadily been stocking precious resources central to his long-term forest restoration project – seeds of all native fruiting trees that constitute the Chamba sacred langur’s diet. In November and December 2022, he spent 16 days visiting nearby forests to collect seeds of four species of native trees, based on their times of maturity. During each four to five-hour long trip, he made sure to select well-matured and healthy-looking seeds and also ensured the genetic diversity of each species by collecting seeds from numerous distant locations. So far, he has collected 130 horse chestnut Aesculus indica, 150 soapnut Sapindus mukorossi, and approximately 200 kainth Pyrus pashia and siris Celtis australis seeds.

In the upcoming months, these seeds will be sown in Vishal’s native tree nursery, which has been started at Dugli village. An area of 752 sq. m. has been leased for this purpose from Dharm Pal, a local farmer. The Mud on Boots project secured an additional grant of rupees five lakhs as seed money for starting this nursery of native fruiting trees to support Vishal’s long-term forest restoration project.

Meanwhile, Vishal also made time to compile the data from the first-ever census of the endemic Chamba sacred langur, conducted between October 10 and 12, 2022. Vishal and his colleagues at the Zoo Outreach Organisation (Coimbatore) have prepared a report that will soon be shared with the Forest Department of Chamba (Wildlife Division). This report will inform the long-term conservation plans of this endemic primate residing in and around the Kalatop-Khajjiar Wildlife Sanctuary in Chamba, Himachal Pradesh.

On one of his field trips, Vishal Ahuja was accompanied by his daughter, who is an avid nature-lover. They collected seeds from soap-nut trees. Photo Courtsey: Vishal Ahuja.

Slow And Steady

In Pokhran, Rajasthan, Radheshyam Pemani Bishnoi’s conservation efforts are showing small, incremental results as the reduced numbers of the free-ranging dog population has resulted in drastically low incidences of free-ranging dog attacks – three incidents in November and December 2022, as compared to an average of eight to 10 attacks per day before Radheshyam’s collaborative efforts, on wildlife such as chinkara, nilgai and Great Indian Bustards (GIB). For the past four years, Radheshyam has been working with the Forest Department of Jaisalmer (Rajasthan) and has relocated around 300 free-ranging dogs to the Jodhpur dog centre.

On November 15, 2022, Radheshyam and Dr. Sumit Dookia (Honorary Scientific Advisor of ERDS Foundation and Faculty, Animal Ecology and Wildlife Biology, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University), met with the DFO, Jaisalmer (Wildlife Division), and discussed ways to address the region’s main threat to GIBs – high tension electricity lines. They informed the DFO about the shabby condition of the bird diverters that have been put in place to ensure GIBs do not fatally collide with these fatal electricity lines and discussed the need for checking their quality before approving their installation, and monitoring their functionality on the field once they are installed. They also discussed at length other existing threats to wildlife here such as the issue of free-ranging dogs and shared possible ideas to tackle these issues.

Additionally, Radheshyam continues to patrol the 50 sq. km. GIB habitat outside the demarcated area of the Desert National Park, Rajasthan, and document the rich wildlife of the region.

A female Great Indian Bustard in its natural grassland habitat in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. Photo: Radheshyam Pemani Bishnoi.

Virtual Farewell Session: On December 22, 2022, Mud on Boots Project Coordinator Neyi Jamoh organised a virtual session for all project leaders to share experiences from their two-year term with the project. Vidya Venkatesh (Director, Last Wilderness Foundation), the special speaker for the session, inspired all participants by sharing her learnings from working on conservation initiatives with several communities in Central India. Cara Tejpal (Mud on Boots Founder and ex-Project Director) and Maitreyee Mujumdar (ex-Project Coordinator) also interacted with the project leaders.

Conservation Culture In Arunachal

In November, Dechin Pema Saingmo and Pemba Tsering Romo traveled to Mago valley to visit Nyuri and Doori, two villages that lie in snow leopard habitat in Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh. They were part of a larger team of colleagues at  WWF-India and members of ‘It’s All Folk’, a Jorhat (Assam)-based project to explore ways of working with locals to create modern products out of yak hair. People in the villages endure harsh weather conditions and live with limited access to proper motorable roads, electricity or schools, and herding yaks is the main livelihood.

The primary goal of this collaborative trip was to understand the possibility of creating modern products from yak hair to create a stable income source for the brokpas, and thereby support their nomadic herding lifestyle, which enables traditional practices that are beneficial to biodiversity conservation in the region. During the five-day long visit, the team interacted with many locals, organised a meeting to share the purpose of the visit, distributed solar lamps and polythene sheets for the construction of greenhouses, and provided five fox lights to locals.

Dechin and Pemba interacted with locals in Mago Chu valley, Arunachal Pradesh. Photo Courtsey: Pemba Tsering Romo.

The team then reached Thingbu village on November 18, 2022, and stayed at the village government school for four days. There the team conducted meetings with locals to get reviews on the fox lights that were distributed by WWF-India in September-October 2022 as part of their long-term project to conserve snow leopards and other high-altitude wildlife in western Arunachal Pradesh. Dechin and Pemba were elated to learn that the fox lights were proving beneficial in protecting livestock from predator attacks. Knowing that brokpas suffer huge losses on account of attacks by wild animals such as dholes, Himalayan black bears and snow leopards, the duo is hopeful that this simple intervention will play a key role in continuing human-wildlife coexistence in Tawang district, Arunachal Pradesh.

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