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Wildlife habitats lack scientific veterinary care


GUWAHATI, Jan 4 - With the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) directing the tiger range states to appoint full-time veterinary doctors in tiger reserves, the pressing issue of dearth of scientific veterinary care across prime wildlife habitats has once again come to the fore.


The NTCA, in its letter dated November 28, 2019 to the Chief Wildlife Wardens in all the tiger range states, including Assam, called for immediate placement of full-time veterinary doctors in the tiger reserves for better management of situations of man-animal conflict besides complying with the guidelines and standard operation procedures (SOPs) issued by the NTCA for dealing with cases of tiger death, disposal of carcass and management of tiger in human-dominated area where it is mandatory to have a veterinary doctor in the team/committee concerned.


Acknowledging the problem, sources in the forest department told The Assam Tribune that there had been a perennial and serious dearth of full-time veterinary doctors across tiger reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. The problem will be ever more serious if the issue of specialised wildlife veterinary care is taken into account.


“There has been a definite dearth of full-time and specialised wildlife care in the State. Many top wildlife habitats do not have full-time vets, and specialised vets are almost nonexistent. Similar is the case with the existing veterinary facilities across wildlife habitats,” sources said.


The problem persists because the general practice has been to attach vets to the forest department from the parent veterinary and animal husbandry department or to have vets on contract instead of having full-time vets dedicated to the forest department. Paucity of specialised wildlife care is another nagging issue that has been causing harm to conservation.


“We need experienced and specialised doctors for handing wildlife cases. Livestock veterinary doctors cannot understand the physiology of wild animals. The forest department needs specialised manpower for treating wild animals,” a forest official said.


Conservationists point out that many cases of unnatural deaths of wild animals, including rhino deaths in Kaziranga, were never scientifically studied. “This highlights the need and importance of specialisation. Unless such cases are studied as a matter of specialisation, vets would continue to remain clueless about wildlife diseases that require pinpointed diagnosis,” a conservationist associated with rhino conservation said.


Acknowledging the concerns, a veterinarian associated with the forest department said as even the required facilities for diagnosis of wild animals were not up to the mark, “most of the time we treat on the basis of symptoms, or past experiences or simply on our hunch.”


For handling wildlife cases, a veterinary doctor needs to have a special diploma from the Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareiley. However, the doctors with the forest department do not hold this diploma. The IVRI is the only institute in the country that gives specialised diploma and training in wildlife medical studies.


The NTCA in its letter stated that field directors in tiger reserves were experiencing difficulty in retaining the vets who join on deputation and in many reserves there was no doctor. “Besides, for other emergencies, their parent department places services of these doctors on deputation outside tiger reserves in between. Any time in a wildlife area there can be an emergency and presence of a vet is also a statutory requirement in cases such as tranquillisation,” the NTCA said.


The NTCA urged the state governments to place a doctor on a fixed tenure basis “who would not be withdrawn for any duties during the tenure.” It also asked the governments to organise at the tiger reserve level basic wildlife health management training like tranquillisation technique, rescue, release, management in captivity, etc., to the vets in the animal husbandry department who are posted in the vicinity of tiger reserves.


Source: The Assam Tribune, Guwahati, Sunday, January 5, 2020