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Tag: wwf

New Film

Happy to share with you the latest film I made for WWF-India called ‘From Pobitora to Manas’. You can see the film here:

http://anilcherukupalli.com/pobitora-manas/

The film follows the journey of the 10 rhinos that were translocated from Pobitora to Manas National Park in Assam and the immense efforts that went into making the whole exercise successful.

This is the longest film I have made to date so your feedback will be most appreciated!

dvd1

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WWF-India staff’s timely act prevents poaching attempt in a critical Central Indian tiger corridor

(Note: First published here.)

The Kanha-Pench Corridor
The Kanha-Pench corridor in Central India offers crucial connectivity between the two important tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

These corridor forests have water holes that are used by wild animals dispersing through the corridor during the summer months. These spots are vulnerable to poaching as poachers can easily target wild animals, including tigers, coming to drink water through use of traps and poisons. For the past two years, WWF-India’s Satpura Maikal Landscape (SML) Programme staff members have been engaged in extensive monitoring of such waterholes in the Kanha-Pench corridor during summer to prevent waterhole poisoning. The monitoring is done in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh state Forest Department.

One such crucial water hole is located in the Atarwani beat of the South Seoni Forest Division in the corridor near the Pench Tiger Reserve. During tiger monitoring exercises it was found that tigers and other animals such as gaur, barking deer and several species of birds frequently visited this waterhole during summer.

The Poaching Attempt
On the evening of 29th March, Girish Patel, WWF-India Field Officer, while on his scheduled waterhole monitoring came across a group of villagers at the water hole. As he recounts, “I saw a group of villagers from different villages namely Atarwani, Sakhadehi, Dhobisara and Darasi. Curious, I asked why they were sitting there. They replied that they were just passing by. So I started moving towards the waterhole and to my surprise they followed me and I suddenly saw nets set up with bamboo near the waterhole. In a flash, I understood from my experience working in this area what they were up to. But instead of reacting in shock, I behaved normally and asked them about the nets. They admitted that they setup the traps for small mammals and birds. I casually took photographs and shot some video for documentary evidence. I soon left and immediately informed the Range Officer of that place as well as the Divisional Forest Officer and my seniors”.

Unfortunately, by the time Forest Department personnel reached the spot the suspected poachers had decamped but the traps setup around the water hole were confiscated. Due to the documentary evidence collected by Mr. Patel an arrest warrant was later issued against the suspects and the case is currently under investigation.

Prompt and decisive actions such these will create a deterrent among potential poachers and hence reduce the frequency of such incidents. Increased vigilance in this area will lead to better protection of tigers and other wildlife which in turn will improve the functionality of the critical Kanha Pench Corridor.

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Berlin-Notes-III

How quickly time flies especially when you are not looking! The last two weeks have been quite interesting. While life on the secondment front has been a little quiet, with most of the work being the initial background research work for a new documentary film, it has been an instructive process nonetheless into how a documentary film takes shape.

First, I had a long discussion with Antonia, the founder of Loupe where I’m doing my secondment, on how documentary film production works in Germany, the commissioning system, the TV channels that buy or fund the documentaries and the budgets involved. Based on this and other discussions there are possibilities of collaboration with Loupe shaping up with two potential film projects on the anvil!

In between I got to go with Anne Schönharting, a German photographer, on two of her portrait assignments. While I didn’t have to do much it was interesting to see another photographer in action, especially on assignment shooting strangers and the methods she used to get a good portrait. This is something I’m not so good at so it was a good way to pick up some tricks and tips. No wonder then that Anne has shot some great portraits!

On a photo shoot with Anne

One evening I went for what I thought would be a very good discussion on ‘Art & Social Media: a long distance relationship?’ which was being organized as part of the Social Media Week and featured at least on paper some very interesting people from the art world in Berlin. Unfortunately, it turned out to be quite tepid and boring as there was nothing new in the discussion. Yes, we all know the art world needs to engage more with and make better use of social media. But at least I got a free t-shirt for my trouble!

At a Berlin Social Media Week event

Through Antonia, I managed to reach Joern, Head-Press Relations, WWF-Germany and through him got an offer to travel up to the Baltic sea to see seals, the largest carnivores in Germany! Needless to say, I jumped at the offer. So early morning on Wednesday I found myself on a train with Thomas, the cameraman for the shoot, to Stralsund, the coastal city that lies on the Baltic Sea. At Stralsund, we met up with Britta, Press Officer of WWF-Germany based in Hamburg and Catherine, the WWF-Germany researcher based in Stralsund who is in charge of a conservation project for the seals.

From Stralsund we drove to the island of Rugen. From there we went on a boat out into the sea. It is a beautiful coast, quite well known for the beaches on the nearby sea resort town of Binz as well as for the mysterious white chalk cliffs on the other side of the island. The boat ride was a little rough as the sea was choppy with a keen wind trying its best to throw us off course. But we made it to the spot where the seals had been sighted previously. Unfortunately, as expected because of the rough sea, the rocks on which they are usually seen were under water. But the seals did not disappoint us too much.

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From Pobitora to Manas

An eye witness account of the translocation of rhinos carried out in Assam between 27-29 Dec 2010 and 17-19 Jan 2011.

Note: An edited version of this was first published as a special feature in the Jan-March 2011 edition of Panda.

Prologue

It is 5 am on a Tuesday morning, towards the end of 2010, and a thick fog conceals the vast grasslands of the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, located about 60 km east of Guwahati. I’m on the back of an elephant, for the first time in my life I should add, sitting behind the mahout and hanging on for dear life with one hand while trying to shoot with a video camera with the other hand. We are following three elephants, each of which has one veterinarian equipped with a tranquilizing gun. Much ahead of them, lost in the gloom of the fog, is the locator team. Waiting behind at the elephant camp is the logistics team along with forest department officials and guards, WWF and other NGO staff as well as a host of other support staff. All of them are part of the team tasked with translocating rhinos from Pobitora to Manas National Park in northern Assam under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020, see below).

The sun is still not up but a faint glow suffuses the fog. An occasional bird call and grunts of the elephants disturb the stillness of the early morning. I slip into a pleasant limbo induced by the gentle rocking of the elephant. But it does not last long. A burst of static shatters the stillness. The locator team is contacting the veterinarians through the wireless. And they have some good news. They have found a couple of rhinos and apprise the team of the location. We rush together into the fog. By this time the sun has risen and is a pale disc hanging low in the sky. Suddenly, a little ahead of us, a silhouette resolves itself into the thick outlines of a rhino. Behind it is another rhino.

The First Attempt

The elephant I’m on falls back a little while the elephants of the tranquilizing team take up a triangular position to box in the rhino and enable correct targeting. Each tranquilizing gun is loaded with a diluted solution of the powerful narcotic-Etorphine. I’m told one undiluted drop of which if exposed to bare skin is capable of killing an adult human within minutes! However, the rhino doesn’t play to their plan. It quickly cuts through the fourth side before the doctors can take proper aim. We follow him and there begins a fruitless chase that lasts more than an hour and a half. By this time the sun has climbed the eastern sky. The fog has also cleared improving visibility. The tranquilizing team decides to leave this unsporting rhino alone and they move to a different location with the locator team. I return to the base camp to join the remaining translocation team there. I’m actually grateful for the chance to dismount the elephant, even if it was an enjoyable experience, as it was not easy shooting with one hand while hanging on to only a rope with the other hand.

The Second Attempt

The locator and tranquilizing teams then move off to a new location in another part of the sanctuary in the hopes of having better luck at finding rhinos. But little did they know that their luck would stay rotten until early afternoon. After a series of near misses, partial hits and uncooperative rhinos the tranquilizing team finally meets with success and manages to tranquilize a female. The rest of us rush to the new location to find the rhino tottering with her concerned calf hovering nearby. A decision is taken to tranquilize the sub-adult rhino also as it is a female too and more importantly would keep the mother and her calf together.

The mother quickly falls asleep and the logistics team swings into action. A bulldozer is brought in to dig a shallow trench next to the tranquilized rhino so that a platform can be placed there onto which the rhino can be rolled. This is soon accomplished.

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Helping the tigers of Kopijhola

(Note: a modified version was first published here.)

Advocacy to protect an important forest block in Central India’s Kanha-Pench corridor

The importance of corridors
Tigers need space due to their territorial nature. Sub-adult tigers are forced to move away from their birth ranges to adjacent protected areas to establish new territories. In this process they make use of available corridor forests that connect protected areas. The Kanha-Pench corridor covering an area of 16,000 sq km in Central India offers such crucial connectivity between the two major tiger source populations in Kanha and Pench through extensive tracts of forests. Together with the Kanha-Achanakmar corridor in Chhattisgarh, these forest tracts form one of the most important tiger habitats in the world. Such forest corridors offer much needed contiguity between different tiger populations, thereby preventing their isolation as well as subsequent loss of genetic vigour, and help in long term tiger conservation.

The Kopijhola Forest Block
The Kanha-Pench corridor is made up of different forest administrative blocks. One such important forest block is Kopijhola-Sonekhar, covering an area of 182 sq. km. The Kopijhola village has a population of about 450 people who depend on the forests for livelihood. In spite of the human settlement, the area around Kopijhola has good bamboo forests, mixed forests and teak plantations.

A survey on tiger occupancy by Wildlife Institute of India and WWF-India recorded the presence of tiger in the Kopijhola-Sonekhar block, including a direct sighting. This forest is also home to other wild animals like leopards, hyena, wild dogs, sambar, four-horned antelope, spotted deer and palm civet, to name a few. Subsequent to the tiger occupancy survey, WWF-India’s Central India field team consisting of Senior Project Officers-Sanjay Thakur and Jyotirmay Jena undertook a rapid survey of the Kopijhola Forest Block to assess its biodiversity and current status. During the survey, apart from megafauna, the team also recorded 30 species of butterflies and 57 species of birds. River Hirri flows across the forest block and has water availability even in summer. This availability of a perennial water source has resulted in the presence of sufficient prey base for tigers.

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Fragmentation threat in the Kanha-Pench Corridor

(Note: First published here.)

Report by WWF-India highlights threat by proposed railway line expansion to crucial corridor linking tiger habitats.

Kanha-Pench tiger corridor
Located in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Kanha-Pench corridor is one of the most important forest corridors in India and facilitates tiger dispersal between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. It covers an area of 16,000 sq km and acts as a refuge for several other mammals such as wild dogs, sloth bear, leopard, hyena, jackal, and sambar to name a few. The Kanha-Pench Corridor also harbours gaur and is known to facilitate their movement. The presence in the corridor of wild prey such as gaur, sambar, chital can help prevent killing of cattle by tigers and thus prevent retaliatory conflict with locals.

Importance of corridors
Sub-adult male tigers are forced to move out of areas where they are born and find new territories. These dispersing sub-adult males are often the ones that manage to use a corridor and get to the adjacent protected area.

A tiger passing through a corridor forest has to confront a range of challenges such as hostile villagers, retaliatory poisoning of livestock kills, poaching of tigers and prey, electrocution by live wires, apart from road and rail traffic. The widening of railway lines and construction and widening of roads in such a corridor will result in fragmentation of the corridor and thereby make dispersal all the more difficult for tigers and other animals that use the corridor.

Such corridors are vital for the long term survival and viability of tigers as they connect smaller tiger populations (eg. Pench and Achanakmar) to larger source populations such as Kanha. Without these linkages tiger populations isolated within individual tiger reserves face the risk of extinction due to poaching and loss in genetic vigour over generations.

© WWF-India

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Conservation Through Cameras

My first short film for WWF:

This short film provides an overview on how the technique of camera trapping is used to estimate tiger numbers and how this aids in tiger conservation.

This film can also be seen on WWF-India’s YouTube channel here.

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Communities stand up for the Red Panda in Arunachal Pradesh

(Note: First published on WWF-India’s website)

A rare beauty
Known for the beauty of its reddish-orange coat and white ‘teardrops’ falling away from its eyes, the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) is found in parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Southern China and India. In India, it is found in the states of Sikkim, northern West Bengal, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, where a majority of its population occurs. Classified as a Vulnerable species by IUCN*, increasing habitat loss poses a major threat to its survival. WWF-India is currently working with its stake holders to conserve this rare animal in most of its distribution range across North East India.

Communities for nature
Since 1992, WWF-India has partnered with local villagers, Indian Army and Forest Department in the Western Arunachal Landscape (WAL), which covers nearly 7000 sq. km. area of Tawang and West Kameng districts, to conserve its rich biological diversity. The maximum forest area in WAL is under the customary tenure of local indigenous communities. WWF-India facilitated the establishment of Community Conserved Areas (CCA) in 2004 to ensure sustainable management and community protection of such forests that also form the habitat of the red panda.

One such CCA is the Pangchen Lumpo Muchat CCA, which comprises of Lumpo and Muchat villages. According to Nawang Chota, Secretary of Pangchen Lumpo Muchat CCA, “After the formation of the CCA we stopped hunting and fishing in it, and prevented outsiders from indulging in these as well. We also started community based tourism to provide a source of income to the villagers.”

In November 2010, three other villages – Socktsen, Kharman and Kelengteng, came together to form the Pangchen Socktsen Lakhar CCA. Together the two CCAs control 200 sq. km. of area. The wide variety of wildlife found in these forests includes the red panda. While formation of the CCAs stopped the hunting of wild animals, the continued loss of habitat posed a threat to the long term survival of the red panda. To prevent this, villagers from the two CCAs came together to form the unique Pangchen Red Panda Conservation Alliance with the support of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and WWF-India. The aim of this community initiative is to help red panda conservation not only by banning its hunting or capture, but also by preventing the habitat loss and protecting the plant species on which it is dependent.

By preventing habitat loss the alliance also hopes to reduce human-wildlife conflict caused by wild animals such as wild boar, porcupines and monkeys raiding crops and villages. A Yak dung briquette unit is also under construction in the area to reduce fuel wood consumption and provide additional income. In addition, Pangchen Tourism Package involving five villages from the two CCAs is being developed to attract tourists and thereby provide an alternate source of livelihood for the locals.

WWF-India’s continuing support
Pijush Dutta, Landscape Coordinator, WAL, WWF-India said, “With this one of a kind initiative it is hoped that conservation of red pandas can be undertaken in a scientific manner with proper records maintained of sightings by villagers. The next step is to prepare a detailed master plan in consultation with the villagers for the management of the forests in a sustainable manner”.

“WWF-India will support this Conservation Alliance by undertaking a biodiversity documentation of the CCAs, conducting training courses for the villagers for sustainable management of local forests and support community based tourism as a conservation incentive,” adds Pijush.

* Wang, X., Choudhury, A., Yonzon, P., Wozencraft, C. & Than Zaw 2008. Ailurus fulgens. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. . Downloaded on 09 December 2010.

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Change Through Education

by Ameen Ahmed and Anil Cherukupalli

(Note: First published on WWF-India’s website. The following modified version appeared subsequently on WWF’s Global Intranet.)

Meet the Pardis
Hardly a community in India’s recent history has been more affected by changing laws and times than the Pardis. A nomadic tribe spread across the central states of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the Pardis have depended on forests for their livelihoods for countless generations. In particular, they hunt wildlife.

The erstwhile Maharajas, recognizing the Pardis’ considerable skills, employed them to drive wildlife toward the kings’ hunting parties. Many farmers in central India employed Pardis to guard against crop-raiding wild animals; the deal was that the Pardis could keep the meat of the animals they caught.

Within the Pardis community, there are divisions according to various occupations and hunting practices. For example, the Phaandiya Pardis hunt their quarry using a rope noose. The Teliya Pardis sell meat and oil extracted from reptiles they capture. But the most remarkable aspect of hunting by Pardis is their total dependence on traditional means and basic equipment, like rope, wooden clubs and knives, to bring down wildlife. They rarely use a search light, vehicles or guns.

Troubled times: post-Independence and the Wildlife Protection Act
The British treated most Pardis as social pariahs. Most of their sub-sects were included in the list of “criminal tribes” in the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. Though the act was overturned after independence in 1952 and they were “de-notified,” the historical stigma remains.

Life for the Pardis took a dramatic turn for the worse in 1972, when the Indian government adopted the Wildlife Protection Act. Pardis were not only prohibited from entering many of the state-controlled lands, now designated as protected forests, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, but overnight they were also required to stop hunting.

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