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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Assam forms expert team to tackle ‘jackal menace’ at Guwahati airport

A team of forest officials and wildlife experts has been constituted for the capture and release of ‘problematic' jackals that make frequent appearances in the perimeter area of Guwahati’s bustling Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport (LGBI)

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati | Updated: November 7, 2020 11:25:30 pm
Guwahati's Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport (LGBI) is a regional hub for the six states that surround Assam (Photo: LGBI airport website)

The Assam Department of Environment and Forests has constituted a team of experts to tackle the “jackal menace” at Guwahati’s Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport.

According to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) prepared by the Divisional Forest Officer, Assam State Zoo Division, the jackals will be identified, captured and released in other suitable habitats in Guwahati.

“It was brought to our notice that jackals make frequent appearances inside the airport complex,” said Chief Conservator of Forest, Central Assam Circle, Hemkanta Talukdar, who is heading the committee, “While no mishap has been reported yet, it could potentially be a safety hazard, especially during landing and take-off.” The forest department team carried out a recce of the airport premises on Wednesday and the steps to implement the SOP are currently being discussed.

Director, LGBI Airport, Ramesh Kumar said that such an operation was “routine”. “It is a good thing that the forest department is helping us out,” he said, “But till date, our airport is incident-free, and this is a preventive measure so that it can remain that way. We are taking extra precautions to make aviation safe and keep our passengers safe. It is such a big airport so we must take such measures.”

Apart from Guwahati, there are other airports in India where stray animals amble on to runways, like Kolkata’s Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport struggles with a jackal problem. “It depends on the location,” said an Airport Authority of India official, who did not wish to be named, “For example, Delhi airport has a problem with nilgai (antelope), Ahmedabad airport sees monkeys, peacocks appear in Mysore airport, wild cats in Dehradun and so on. This is because airports are usually located away from cities and human habitation but that is changing.”

Guwahati airport: An ideal jackal habitat

A regional hub for the six states that surround Assam, Talukdar said that the busy LGBI complex airport expands over 500 acres, and is located close to two reserve forests: Rani and Jalukbari.

According to veterinarian Dr Bhaskar Choudhury of the Wildlife Trust of India, it was not surprising that the animals were spotted frequently in the airport premises. “In fact, this is an ideal jackal habitat,” he said, “There is water from the surrounding wetlands (like Deepor Beel), scrub jungles and most importantly, human settlements and patches of grassland right next to the airport — jackals thrives in such semi-urban habitats, feeding on small animals like hares, rabbits, moles etc.”

The Indian jackal (Canus aureus) is a canid schedule-II (part-I) species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. “They are a protected species and cannot be killed, we will follow a capture and release protocol — the ones captured will be relocated in suitable areas least 100 km away,” said Talukdar, “So we are emphasising on safe rehabilitation without harming them.”

The plan of action

The team will include forest officials, qualified veterinarians, wildlife experts and NGO members (to be nominated by Chief Wildlife Warden Assam) and work towards two objectives: capture and translocation of jackals within the airport and stop further intrusion of the airport perimeter and area by fresh population of jackals.

Dr Choudhury, who is part of the team, feels they should first try and work on the latter since capturing jackals is not an easy task. “We do not know how many jackals there are but it is established that there is a presence,” he said, “We are advising them to plug the holes in the boundary walls to prohibit entry.” Talukdar added that jackals are adaptive, burrowing animals. “Even if the perimeter of the airport has RCC [concrete] walls, they are able to burrow deep into the ground, and appear on the other side.”

He said they are looking at short-term and long-term measures to deal with the problem. “The long-term measures may include things like solar-energised fencing.”

For now, the SOP recommends “scientifically designed trap-cum-squeeze cages” that measure 1.40 m in length 0.60 m in width and 0.80 m in height.

“The captured individuals should be immediately shifted to a shelter facility ward for the jackals within the airport area for any post capture operations” stated the SOP, warning that the animals should not be kept in small cages for long periods as it may result in severe stress. It also added that for release, the jackals should be “transported by suitable vehicles preferably in the evening to avoid any heat-related stress.”

“We are going to be setting up these traps at strategic locations and see how it goes,” said Talukdar, “We have not handled a situation like this before, so it will be a challenge. Moreover, jackals are clever animals and won’t be very easy to catch.”

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