Wild Animal Rescue Project during Covid-19

Challenges of rehabilitating injured animals Down South

In a world where we can be anything, we must be mindful to be kind, and an act of kindness was exactly what
The Sunday Morning Brunch came across this week with the news of rehabilitative efforts of a group to rescue injured animals in Hiyare Down South.

The Wild Animal Rescue Project (WARP) was initiated by the Wildlife Conservation Society Galle (WCSG) in 2008 to address the pressing issues encountered by animal patients in the area. The group has partnered with the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) and Nations Trust Bank (its financial provider) to carry out the project.

Speaking to WCSG President Madura De Silva, The Sunday Morning Brunch learnt that the group ventured into this initiative by rescuing animals in a small scale in Galle together with the Hikkaduwa Wildlife Range Office, by carrying out treatment and sending the animals back to the wild thereafter. While Hiyare remains to be the base of the group, it receives animals such as sambars, hog deer, spotted deer, and animal juveniles from areas covered by the DWC, covering Kalutara to Tangalle.

Originally, the group extended its initiative in support of smaller animals who die of injuries. Back in 2008, where social media exposure stood at a minimum, the lack of attention directed towards the cause stood high, which the group thought is not an issue to be left unattended. “If you look at social media, when there is an injured animal now, there are websites where they publish that and then action will be taken after. But in 2008, when social media was not that strong, animals were left behind on the roadside and the Department did what they could; they were not well equipped for that at the time,” De Silva explained.

Animal patients and Covid-19

The restrictions in mobility owing to the pandemic may be slowing down in our country as we speak, but it comes as no surprise how the restrictions landed a lasting impact on most things, including this very project.

De Silva asserted that out of the two things that were notably visible at the time, was the increase in animal movement as human movement came to a halt. “When there was less human movement, more and more animals would come to human settlements.”

It erupted negatively with increasing numbers of purple-faced leaf monkeys, which extended to hog deer. Explaining the alarming dog attacks on hog deer, De Silva said: “The numbers were increased, and so did dog attacks because whenever there is less human movement, they would come to human settlements and then get attacked by dogs.”

The retention of ample animal feed was the next facet the pandemic burdened WARP with. “Look at what has happened during the curfew season (when people had) to find food. In our centre, we have sambar juveniles, hog deer juveniles, etc. so finding food is a difficult effort.” In Hiyare, the organisers do not feed animals human food such as bread and rice. For instance, the purple-faced leaf monkey is fed grains provided by volunteers, but this too came to a halt when the pandemic hit our country.

Fresh milk, which is required by juvenile animals, as De Silva indicated, had also been difficult to obtain, considering the long queues and excessive hoarding by consumers. “Since there was a difficulty, what one of our volunteer members did was wait in the queues and buy additional stocks of milk,” he said.

What they do

Hiyare, as De Silva noted, is an area enriched with an abundance of forest lands, making it an ideal location to carry out animal rehabilitation programmes. The project was proven successful in rehabilitating a wide range of animals.

Small cats, for instance, are one such group. The organisation was responsible, for the first time in history, in the rehabilitation of an endangered species of small cats known as the “rusty-spotted cat”. The operation which was documented had been telecast worldwide by BBC, attracting immense attention towards this species, since the rusty-spotted cat had never been documented before.

The project contains a programme in support of the hog deer which is also a critically endangered species with a limited range within the country.

In carrying out its functions, the organisation would collect the injured animal. Sometimes cases extend from reports of residents from the area or references made to the organisation by the DWC, where the needful is then done by resident veterinary surgeons.

What intrigued us most about this programme was the close attention to detail and individualisation of treatment afforded to juvenile and adult animals.

In the event of an injured juvenile fishing cat, for instance, the cat will first be fed milk and then fed solid food such as chicken or fish. Upon the completion of treatment, they will undergo a training process to give them basic skills, such as hunting, before they are released back into the wild. “We get juvenile raptors, eagles, owls, and larger birds that go through the same process,” De Silva said, explaining the range of juvenile animals.

The process, however, is differentiated when treating adult animals, as they are released to the wild upon completion of treatment. “We attend to the wound or damage; you don’t have to train the animal because it is used to being in the wild.” Animals, upon reaching 100% recovery, would be released back to the closest and safest location.

De Silva also mentioned the Captive Breeding Programme conducted in a facility under a joint venture with the Geoffrey Bawa Trust.