Nova Nature Welfare Society

First published in Sanctuary Asia, Vol. 37 No. 6, June 2017
Photo Courtesy: Nova Nature Welfare Society.

The lush forests of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh are home to several charismatic, but endangered species such as the tiger, water buffalo and elephant. These forests are also a rich source of timber and minerals and have had a history of exploitation over past decades. Sharing of forest resources between humans and wildlife has therefore been a reason for conflict in this increasingly-fragmented landscape. It is in this state, which is at the heart of Indias environment vs. development debate, that the Nova Nature Welfare Society (NNWS) has been researching, rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife and spreading awareness about conservation for more than a decade.

The Society has a dedicated division comprising well-trained personnel involved in rescuing reptiles, birds and small mammals that stray into human-dominated areas. Along with the Chhattisgarh Forest Department, the team has rescued more than 9,000 reptiles including snakes such as common kraits, spectacled cobras, Russells vipers, banded kraits and Indian rock pythons, in the past four years alone. More than 4,000 snake bites occur in the state each year as per Chhattisgarh government records; which has made it imperative for the Society to work towards snake bite management and awareness. NNWS has sensitised more than 25,000 students, villagers and locals living in and around the Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, Bhoramdeo and Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuaries, and the Jungle Safari at Raipur.

“Many believe rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife is an animal welfare activity and not conservation per se. We beg to differ and feel that our activities help conserve wildlife without prioritising a species. Our rescue programme is primarily conducted outside Protected Areas, where the presence of many co-occurring species is not tolerated by humans. Many snakes suffer at the hands of humans due to myths, superstition, lack of awareness and misidentification," says Moiz Ahmed, Secretary, NNWS.

After understanding these issues and gaining experience, the Society began to gradually address them in a systematic and effective manner. “The more people know about snakes, the less afraid they are of them. We are extra careful while rescuing venomous snakes because we are aware that human casualty chances are high in these instances. Our overall objective is to reduce the number of conflict situations and minimise snake deaths along with human casualties, while inculcating a culture of coexistence with urban biodiversity," adds Ahmed.

Photo Courtesy: Nova Nature Welfare Society.

In 2006, NNWS conducted the first preliminary survey to assess the population of wild buffaloes in the state, which helped to structure a Wild Buffalo Conservation Action Plan for the Udanti Wildlife Sanctuary. NNWS also contributed towards a recovery survey of wild buffaloes in the Indravati Tiger Reserve and with the Odisha Forest Department in the Sonabeda Tiger Reserve. A herpetofauna survey carried out by NNWS members in five districts of Chhattisgarh in 2013 revealed the presence of eight new reptile species in the region including the bamboo pit viper and the rare Indian smooth snake.

“Conducting such surveys is crucial in a state like Chhattisgarh, where very little scientific wildlife studies have been carried out previously. When a new species is described or their extended range identified, it increases the conservation value of these areas. The state is a biodiversity goldmine and it would be really unfortunate if we lose species before they are even known to the world," says Ahmed.

NNWS continues to assist the State Forest Department in monitoring tigers and estimating their populations in Bhoramdeo, Kawardha, Udanti-Sitanadi and Gariyaband. Udanti-Sitanadi, a reserve where tigers are surviving in numbers much lower than its carrying capacity, is one among three tiger reserves in Chhattisgarh, where NNWS members believe their work could make a real difference to effect long-term, landscape-level conservation decisions. The Society is also making efforts to build the capacity of forest staff across the state.

The work being done by NNWS has received acknowledgment from all quarters in the state. The Society was chosen for a Chhattisgarh Pride Award in 2014 by the Dainik Bhaskar group in the environment category and was felicitated by Chief Minister Raman Singh and actor Anupam Kher. Snakes and other Reptiles of Chhattisgarh - A field guide, a book published by the Society in association with Chhattisgarh State Biodiversity Board was released in 2015 at the hands of the State Forest Minister Mahesh Gagda. The Society also works with premier conservation organisations and institutions such as World Wide Fund for Nature, Wildlife Trust of India, Bombay Natural History Society, Indian Bird Conservation Network, Wetlands International and the Wildlife Institute of India.

“The outlook of common people towards conservation, extremism in the state, lack of resources and financial aid are hurdles that we have to overcome. People have developed a belief and confidence in us because of the work we do. We have received much-needed assistance from the Chhattisgarh Forest Department to conduct scientific studies and organise awareness programmes across the state," says M. Suraj, President, NNWS.

Photo Courtesy: Nova Nature Welfare Society.

Going ahead, the Society plans to form rescue teams in other districts of the state apart from Durg, Raipur and Rajnandgaon, work towards snake-bite management in remote areas of the state, provide proper facilities to health centres in such areas and involve local communities in wildlife conservation and tourism-related activities through innovation. “This is our state. We cant wait for someone else to come and protect its wildlife. We must stand up and take responsibility to secure its rich biodiversity," adds Suraj.

Address: Nova Nature Welfare Society, Near CG College, House No. 36/337, Byron Bazaar, Raipur, Chhattisgarh.
Tel.: +91 99934 54757;
       +91 93033 45640

Anirudh Nair, Author: First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 6, June 2017.

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