Introducing A Rocha India!

Hi everyone, it’s our pleasure to be joining the Rainmatter collaborative here on the Grove. Following is a short write up about A Rocha India & the work that we do.

A Rocha India was established in November 2003 as a registered public charity. It is a part of an international network of conservation groups that carry out research & conservation projects to combat the global biodiversity loss and climate change crisis. You can go here to know more about some of our work & programs. A Rocha India has very strong roots in the Bannerghatta – Hosur Landscape (BHL), as we have been working here for over two decades. During this period, we have established important alliances with the local communities through our work and as being part of the community we work for. This unique position helps us work dynamically for the cause of conservation, as we view, understand and resolve issues through the lens of relationships. The interactions that local communities have with their land and wildlife; and the connections that we have built with the landscape and its people.
Our mission is to strengthen management systems to secure biodiversity, and local community needs through integrated approaches involving committed and passionate influencers. Our vision is to build resilience and tolerance towards wildlife, its habitats and community through human-wildlife conflict resolution, empowering local communities, especially women and children, and capacity building for forest frontline staff, farming communities and vulnerable groups that are usually most affected by human-wildlife conflict. A Rocha India has conducted many outreach programs and campaigns with the aim of creating stewardship for conservation and enhancing livelihoods of communities in the region.

Our founder, the late. Dr. Vijay Anand, a young scholar pursuing his PhD on the ecology of the Kalvarayan hills envisioned A Rocha India with Dr. Simon Stuart, then a trustee of A Rocha international & Chair of the IUCN SSC Red List, in Bangalore in 2003. One of the first studies that was conducted by A Rocha India in Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) was on the ecology of the Asian elephant and its interactions with farming communities, which morphed into the Asian Elephant Conservation Program (AECP). The AECP is now the longest spanning study of the species in the Bannerghatta – Hosur Landscape and a flagship project for A Rocha India. The Bannerghatta region was one of the least documented regions of the Eastern ghats when we arrived here. But over the past 20 years A Rocha India has had the opportunity to contribute to the knowledge of the Bannerghatta Landscape, now expanding its operations to Hosur in Tamil Nadu. We are proud to have contributed to the science & conservation of the region over the years.
Apart from the research; A Rocha India is heavily invested in community work. Some of our initiatives include digital literacy for rural India, medical support for park-edge villages during the pandemic, livelihood augmentation initiatives for farming communities, implementing sustainable farming practices in the forest-farm interface.

The Rainmatter collaboration is helping us systematically address some of the issues of the BHL. We are primarily working in 4 zones that are critical to the conservation of this landscape:

  1. Forest: Working within forested areas, we are aiming to restore wildlife corridors, tackle illegal wildlife trade, eradicate invasive alien species and conduct methodical wildlife monitoring for the synthesis of important ecological data.
  2. Buffer: a series of projects including human-elephant conflict (HEC) mitigation interventions like early warning systems for alerting on elephant movement, forest fire mitigation, aiding the ETF (Elephant Task Force) with a primary response team for crop raiding instances in villages. This also includes habitat restoration work like grassroots afforestation and improving ground water.
  3. Croplands: An important aspect of the crop lands work will be helping local farmers move away from traditional farming methods to more sustainable & organic methods. This zone also includes mitigation interventions for anti-crop depredation like canine conservation squads for the ETF and ways to help fast-track ex-gratia disbursement.
  4. Urban: this last zone includes awareness and education work with a specific focus on environmental education. We also plan on working to uplift rural welfare infrastructure around protected areas, addressing hygiene needs and civic development in select villages.
    The purview of this latest undertaking was envisioned by the A Rocha team in 2021 under the guidance of our National Director Mr. Avinash Krishnan (Scientist and member of IUCN Asian elephant SSC group), who has worked in the landscape for 17 years. We are hopeful that this effort will bring about positive impact for conservation, building capacity in the people and protecting wildlife of the region to face the climate crisis in the coming few years.

FOREST FIRE MITIGATION – 29th and 30th of March

The Bannerghatta landscape is primarily composed of dry deciduous and scrub vegetation, both highly prone to fires. Anthropogenic processes are the leading cause for the forest fires in India and it is no different for this region too. Forest fires have a huge impact on the ecosystem and biodiversity in the forest and surrounding area.
Image 1: Forest Fire in Bannerghatta National Park.

On March 29th-30th, A Rocha India organised the “Forest Fire Mitigation and Crowd Control” event as a proactive response to address the recurring challenge of managing crowds during the annual local village festival in Bannerghatta, which traverses through the forest area, where devotees from across the region come on a pilgrimage to offers prayers to the deity Narsimhaswamy.

The urgency of this initiative was underscored by a devastating forest fire on the evening of the 29th, which engulfed approximately 9-10 acres of precious forest land (Image1). Our team, along with and volunteers and the forest department collaborated to contain and extinguish the fire, providing essential support in mitigating further damage to the ecosystem.

Image 2: A Rocha Team, Forest Department and Volunteers collaborating to mitigate the fire.

Following this critical intervention, our focus shifted to crowd management strategies to ensure the safety of festival-goers and prevent future forest fires. Positioned strategically, our team guided the passing crowds along the designated routes to avoid venturing into the forest, where wildlife encounters are more likely, especially at night.Vigilance was maintained throughout the event to identify and address any suspicious activities that could threaten human safety and the surrounding biodiversity.

On the second day of the festival, we were joined by 13 NCC Cadets, greatly enhancing our crowd management efforts.

Image 3: NCC cadets joining us on day 2 for crowd management.

This event highlighted the paramount importance of effective management practices in safeguarding our environment, communities, and lives. It also emphasised the need for proactive measures to address the multifaceted challenges of human-wildlife interactions and the preservation of natural habitats. Through collective action and heightened awareness, we remain committed to fostering harmonious coexistence with our natural surroundings while ensuring the well-being of all stakeholders involved.

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ANTI-SNARE DRIVE – 31th of March

A Rocha India is actively monitoring illegal wildlife trade through its Advocacy division, focusing on combating poaching activities. The Bannerghatta Wildlife Range, including Kodihalli, Harohalli, Bannerghatta, and Anekal, faces persistent poaching issues, particularly in the Ragihalli reserve forest region. In 2020, Karnataka reported 51 of the 522 wildlife poaching and trade incidents across India, with rising poaching cases in Bannerghatta National Park, including male elephants for ivory and pangolins for scales. Poaching of animals listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act results in seven years imprisonment.

Key initiatives like the Anti-snare drive are crucial for promoting coexistence between wildlife and human communities. On 30th of March, A Rocha India, alongside the forest department, conducted an anti-snare drive for its staff and volunteers to understand some of the methodologies used by poachers. These drives are vital for several reasons:

  1. Wildlife Protection : Snares are indiscriminate and can harm or kill endangered species. Removing them helps protect wildlife populations.
  2. Habitat Preservation : Clearing snares preserves ecosystem integrity and biodiversity.
  3. Community Engagement : Involving the community raises awareness and fosters a sense of stewardship for wildlife protection.
  4. Legal Compliance : Enforcing laws deters poaching and supports wildlife conservation regulations.
  5. Data Collection : Gathering location data and photographs aids informed decision-making and targeted conservation strategies.
  6. Education and Awareness : Drives educate participants on the impacts of illegal wildlife activities and empower them to contribute to conservation efforts.
    Image 1: Different snares found on field.

Mr. Sachin, Beat Guard of Ragihalli range, provided insights into the region, while Mr. Sharath Babu(Crime Officer) outlined essential field guidelines. He explained that snares, typically made from stones and GI binding wires, are camouflaged among stones, dry bushes, and grasses, targeting small animals but also posing risks to larger animals like elephants and wild boars. Elephants may ensnare their trunks, while wild boars may trap their snouts.

Field guidelines emphasized using pliers to carefully untangle snares, seeking assistance from forest guards, and documenting through photographs and GPS coordinates. Safety precautions included avoiding bare-hand handling of snares.

Through this drive, participants helped enforce the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, which safeguards species and their habitats. Identifying and dismantling illegal snares ensured the protection of wildlife and upheld legal conservation efforts.
Image 2: A Rocha Team, Forest Department and Volunteers collaborating for the Anti-snare drive.

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We are excited to introduce the Elephant Anti-Depredation Dog Squad (EaDDS) project, a pioneering and collaborative effort between A Rocha India and Rainmatter Foundation. Our aim is to use conservation dogs as part of our mitigation strategy to minimize instances of Human – elephant conflict with a particular focus on reducing mortalities of both elephants and people.


Background and concept
The Bannerghatta National Park (BNP), deals with the pressing issue of human-elephant conflict (HEC) that necessitates innovative solutions. With a total park area of 260 sq. km, BNP is surrounded by 77 eco-sensitive villages practicing subsistence farming, creating ample conditions for elephants to venture into human-use areas, resulting in severe consequences such as crop damage, property loss, and fatalities. A Rocha India has envisioned addressing this challenge with the aid of fully trained conservation dogs that can be used for conflict resolution. The EaDDS, leveraging the superior olfactory abilities of working line dogs, aims to enhance existing systems by accurately track elephant movements at night, increasing the precision of mitigation efforts, and preventing elephants from entering human-dominated landscapes. In collaboration with the existing Elephant Task Force (ETF) of the Karnataka Forest Department, the EaDDS canine unit will be an additional tool for nightly patrols in conflict-prone areas. The canine unit will be a proactive measure to solving the conflict around Bannerghatta. It will help reduce time taken to identify the exact location of elephants during conflict/crop raiding instances, which usually happen at night. Alternately this will also serve as a way to eliminate false positive presence of elephants in an area, again, saving time and effort. Figure 1 provides a short illustration of the typical usually scenario with crop raiding instances, the mitigation measures deployed (fire crackers and loud noises used as scare tactics) and the suggested EaDDS intervention.

Work done so far:
Setting up the project has been taken up with utmost care due to its novelty. We want the effort to be our best foot forward, giving us and this exciting, unique, innovative solution the best chance possible to take flight. So far, we have interviewed over 10 different training partners to learn about the processes of training a working dog for this very specific purpose. During this time, we have been met with a lot of positive support for the project from canine experts and trainers, with the general perspective that there is a high likelihood of it working on-field.

Amidst the training partners that we have approached were institutional setups like the CRPF – Central Reserve Police Force, canine training academies for working dogs and other private agencies that offer canine training expertise from Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi. We have brought on-board two consultants during this phase to help setup the project. Mrs. Mili Gandhi is one of our consultant project managers, her guidance and contributions in terms of networking and setting up project systems and processes has been an asset. Mr. Dinesh G is one of our consultant canine trainers – he has helped us with the breed selection process, contributed to a better understanding of the training module needed for the purpose of the project based on his experience and expertise of training dogs for the past 18 years using positive reinforcement methods. Several potential collaborations have been explored by the A Rocha team to find the best fit & develop the highest standards for setting up a prototype for the EaDDS. The project has been positively accepted by the Karnataka Forest department who have agreed to support the endeavor and the training process. The project will eventually be handed over to the department, a proposal and action plan (or implementation plan) has been submitted to the department titled ‘Conservation Dogs for the Elephant Task Force (ETF) of the Bannerghatta National Park’.

The training process will be rigorously monitored and evaluated to gauge its efficacy in first year. Apart from internal recording and monitoring for creation of a phase wise training module, we will be setting up an observation panel of expert canine trainers whom we have interacted with in the past few months. The observation panel will come in 15 days a month, on rotation basis, to observe and audit the training process. The entire operation will take place in a canine training facility setup by A Rocha solely for the purpose of the project. We have refurbished a rented property in Bannerghatta to include a fully functional Kennel, training ground, housing for dog handlers and other needed amenities. The kennels have been constructed keeping in mind hygiene and welfare standards as per the AWBI (Animal Welfare Board of India) guidelines. This includes adequate ventilation, proper drainage and sufficient water supply, space for animals to move freely, protection from natural elements (like heat, rain, etc.), access to large open spaces, 24*7 caretakers and provisions for a balanced, nutritious, species appropriate diet. All other measure to ensure the best health of the animals like vaccinations, regular veterinary checkups and grooming will be incorporated into the maintenance routine.