Two hand-raised wild buffaloes were released in eastern Assam’s Dibru-Saikhowa National Park by the forest department and International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI). The buffaloes, rescued as calves separated from their herds six years ago, are being remotely monitored with the help of radio-transmitters fitted on to them before their release.
“There are some 300 wild buffaloes here. We have seen no aberrant behaviour in the two buffaloes released. But these two face threats of confrontation from resident wild buffaloes, but such intra-specific conflicts are natural. I think they will be able to reintegrate into the wild,” said Dibru-Saikhowa divisional forest officer Aniruddha De.
Prior to the release, the two buffaloes underwent prolonged in-situ acclimatization in a 3 hectare area established within Dibru-Saikhowa. They were hand-raised at the IFAW-WTI run Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) near Kaziranga National Park and were relocated to the specified area in December 2006.
The calves, both males, were rescued in August 2002 and November 2003 in Kaziranga. The first calf – barely a week old during rescue – was displaced from its herd due to the floods. The second calf was found alone in the forest. In CWRC, the calves were kept in the mega-herbivore nursery, and were hand-raised by the veterinarians and animal keepers. At Dibru-Saikhowa, they were radio-collared on October 4 in preparation for their release.
With less than 4000 individuals estimated to be remaining in the wild across its distribution range, the wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee) is categorised as an ‘endangered’ species by the IUCN Red List. In India, wild buffaloes are found in Assam, Chhattisgarh and possibly in Madhya Pradesh. The species is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Wild buffaloes predominantly inhabit alluvial grasslands, riparian forests and woodlands. A single population each survives in the Kosi Tapu Wildlife Reserve in Nepal and Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The wild buffalo is also reported from Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand.
In India, threats to the wild buffalo includes interbreeding with domestic or feral buffaloes, as well as competition and disease transmission from the latter which are found foraging even in protected areas. In Assam, the calves are also displaced by natural calamities such as floods, or due to conflicts with humans.
“Dilution of genetic purity of the wild buffaloes through interbreeding with domestic buffaloes is possible. However, the chances of a domestic male breeding with a wild female is remote, considering the ferocity of the wild buffaloes. So the gene flow would be more from the wild to the households rather than the other way around. This has been substantiated by recent genetic studies,” said NVK Ashraf, director of WTI’s Wild Rescue Programme.