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Pandemic Uncertainty over India's Only Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Centre

Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Assam.

Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Assam.

At the CWRC, on the fringes of Kaziranga National Park in Assam, one can see rhino and elephant calves being fed milk in feeding bottles. The centre has the unique distinction of tending to 250 species which possibly make it stand out globally for its multi-species services. But owing to a major economic slump due to the pandemic globally, there has been a dearth in financial commitments this year.

Commitments on future funding have dried up in the past six months of the pandemic for India’s only Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC). The unique facility located in Borjuri village in Panbari block on the fringes of the World Heritage Kaziranga National Park of Assam that runs on personal and organisation funding is not certain about its resources for the year 2021.

“Our centre runs on donations from people and organisations. This year we are running the show with the funds that were assured last year. We are tiding over the pandemic crisis smoothly so far. However, in the past six months of the pandemic there hasn’t been a single commitment from our funding sources. There has been a major economic slump due to the pandemic globally and this could be the major reason for the dearth in commitments so far. No commitments so far implies a paucity of resources for 2021 and this is a worrying concern for all of us,” says Rathin Burman, manager, CWRC. “To keep CWRC ticking, the centre needs funds of approximately one crore rupees per year which includes the salaries to the vets and animal food.”

Established in 2002 to support the efforts of the Assam forest department in responding to wildlife emergencies of the region and more so during the floods, the CWRC is managed by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and funded by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The rehabilitation and conservation centre has the unique distinction of tending to 250 species which possibly make it stand out globally for its multi-species services.

“At this moment we have seven rhinos, seven elephants, five leopards, one lesser adjutant stork and one slow loris at the centre. The youngest rhino calf is three months old and was rescued in the recent flood that marooned 90 per cent of the national park. Animals wounded in accidents or calamities, and displaced, rescued animals are brought to the centre. We provide them care and rehabilitation. However, our prime objective is to release these animals back into the wilderness,” says Samul Ali, veterinary doctor at CWRC.

Till July 2020, the centre had attended to 6,197 cases that were either stranded and displaced during floods, injured in road accidents, injured by people, confiscated by the forest department, rescued by people and handed over to the forest department, abandoned by natal herd, or trapped. 64% of these have been sent to the wild which includes relocation. The CWRC has the unique reputation of attending to endangered and rare species such as bamboo rat, badger, toddy cat and Bengal florican.

CWRC, Kaziranga is the only such facility in India where injured, orphaned wild animals are treated or hand-raised and in due course of time returned to their natural habitat.

“In CWRC you get to see rhino calves being fed milk in feeding bottles. Likewise the elephant calves too are fed in a similar way. The rhino calves drink baby milk powder solution while for the elephants we prepare it from skimmed milk. We need rupees 35 to 40 thousand to feed each calf for one month,” says Rathin Burman.

In 2017, six out of the nine rhinos rescued from the devastating floods were adopted by people of the state. Noted singer Zubeen Garg adopted one rhino too and took responsibility for the expenditure on it for one year.

CWRC, through its experience in the field of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, has developed protocols for rehabilitation of more than eight species of wildlife, trained more than 300 vets and demonstrating biodiversity conservation through returning the animal back to the wild.

The centre has 12 animal keepers, two doctors, one biologist and one communications officer.

In April 2016, Britain’s Prince Charles and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, fed a baby elephant at the CWRC. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal too has visited the centre. Recently, international cricketer Kevin Peterson too visited the facility while he was in Kaziranga National Park for a film shoot on the rhinos. ​