Ravi Chellam, as a student and then faculty of Wildlife Research Institute of India, did his research on Gir lions. His work on understanding the lions, their threats, and the work he did for recommending an alternative habitat, were a huge contribution. This piece is a tribute at a time when his recommendations should be taken very seriously. Equally it is a tribute to so many other wildlife researchers from WII and other institutions, whose courage and commitment have helped preserve our biodiversity.
The following pieces are excerpts from Ravi’s piece ‘A Roaring Career’ in a publication titled ‘Walking The Wild Path’.
On the excitement of wildlife research:
‘A radio-collar is a piece of wildlife research equipment, which consists of a radio transmitter that is mounted on a collar made of some tough material. The transmitter constantly emits signals, which enables the researcher to track and locate the animal that is carrying it. The collar is for fixing the transmitter on the animal. A very wide variety of organisms have been studies by this method of radio-telemetry, ranging from whales, elephants, lions, tigers, snakes, to even very small birds like the hummingbird.
Shortly, we heard the regular rustling of the leaf litter, a clear indication that a large animal was approaching us. A large male lion emerged out of the shadows of the forest and it immediately saw the tethered buffalo. It looked around, as if to check that there were no human being around and then rushed to kill the buffalo bait. As the lion locked its jaws around the neck of the buffalo, it presented a clear and close enough target for Dr. Johnsingh. The dart went into the rump of the lion. Startled by the loud report of rifle, the lion left the bait and walked away into the forest.
We waited for about ten minutes, to allow time for the drug to take effect. Then I cautiously led the search team to locate the darted lion. It had not gone very far. It was lying on the ground, barely one hundred meters from the bait. I threw a level of immobilisation. The lion responded by slowly lifting its head, and it was evident that the drug had taken its effect; but to safely work with the animal, we needed to give it an additional top up dose. I crept up to the lion with two of my assistants and we soon physically restrained the drugged animal by sitting on its head and rump. This enabled the delivery of the additional dose of drug by means of an injection.
Once the lion was completely immobilised, we fixed the radio-collar around its neck, took the required measurements of the lion’s body, treated the minor external injuries, weighed it and then left it in a cool place to recover. I sat at the safe distance to monitor its recovery.’
And, on the vulnerability of the Gir lions:
‘Based on the results of my doctoral research I surveyed potential lion habitats to locate a suitable site for the translocation. In January 1995, I submitted my report to the Government of India and since then efforts are underway to manage the forests of Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh for making them suitable for lions.
If this translocation effort is undertaken and succeeds, it will be a majof step in ensuring the log-term conservation of the lions and a major personal achievement for me. Translocating large carnivores and ensuring their successful establishment in a new habitat is not an easy task. People resident in the forest and the adjoining areas will always be worried about their personal safety and that of their livestock when a population of large carnivores is established.
Additionally, great care needs to be taken to ensure that the animals are captured and transported without causing any physical injury to them. There are also many political angles to be considered. This is in a way part of the challenge of doing wildlife conservation.’
From ‘Walking the Wild Path’. Mamata Pandya, Meena Raghunathan (eds). Center for Environment Education. Ahmedabad. 1999.