Please tell us about yourself
In 2009, a pair of tiny spotted cubs were dropped onto the doorstep of the International Fund For Animal Welfare – Wildlife Rescue Center (IFAW-WRC) in Kaziranga in Assam. A closer look at the days-old felines revealed that they were clouded leopards – the smallest of the big cats, the clouded leopard is an extremely shy, nocturnal and tree-dwelling animal, it is found in the forested foothills of northeast India. Only about 10,000 clouded leopards remain in the wild – they face the double-jeopardy of poaching and dwindling forests due to human expansion – and the species is classified as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
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The newborn cubs, found unaccompanied by the residents of the Kanthalmari village, were most likely orphans, having lost their parents to poachers. Wild Life Trust of India vet, Dr. Bhaskar Choudhury realised that he had two options in front of him – send the cubs to a zoo or euthanize them. Talking to The Better India, Dr Choudhary said that he couldn’t bring himself to do either. So, he decided to raise the cubs himself and teach them everything their mother would have to help them survive.
In the first attempt to rehabilitate clouded leopards in India, Dr. Choudhary brought together a team of vets, conservationists, and photographers to save and hand-raise the cubs he had named Runa and Kata. As not much is known about the behaviour of the mysterious clouded leopards, there was no guidebook to help the team in their project. Dr Choudhary says,
Your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
Like many of his countrymen, Choudhary grew up in a small village, in close contact with wildlife. He saw his first elephant as a boy, common in a nation where the pachyderm is a beast of burden.
As an adolescent, Choudhary and a group of friends once crossed paths with a tiger with a cub, perhaps the most dangerous encounter on the subcontinent, where about 85 people are killed annually by shere khan.
“A tigress on a moonlit night, the light falling just right. We didn’t speak for three to four minutes. Everybody was spellbound.” “You can’t describe the feeling,” Choudhary remembers. “A tigress on a moonlit night, the light falling just right. We didn’t speak for three to four minutes. Everybody was spellbound.”
Bhaskar Choudhary ended up studying to become a wildlife veterinarian. After graduating in Veterinary Sciences and Animal Health from the Assam Agricultural University in 1999, he took a job with the Wildlife Trust of India. In 2000, he was posted to the IFAW’s Wildlife Rescue Center, an outpost on the outskirts of the sprawling Kaziranga National Park
At the IFAW – WRC, Dr Choudhary would regularly treat injured creatures. He was also part of the original team that encouraged local people to provide support and information on displaced animals, specially during natural disasters like floods. In 2004, during the annual floods in Kaziranga National Park, the Assam forest department and IFAW-WCR rescued two stranded rhinos who were named Ganga and Jamuna.
What does a wildlife vet do?
Over 16 years, Dr Choudhary and his team of WRC vets have worked with over a thousand animals. The astute wildlife vet currently heads all activities in the region, including facilitation of emergency relief for wild animals in distress, implementation of rehabilitation of hand-raised animals and post-release monitoring. He is also responsible for connecting with government and non-government agencies to work towards Wildlife Trust of India’s mission to conserve northeast India’s fragile ecosystems.
Dr Choudhary also supervises the care for animals under WTI’s five Mobile Veterinary Service (MVS) teams. The primary objective of an MVS unit is to minimise the crucial time gap between detection of an affected animal and subsequent veterinary aid. In addition to providing on-field medical assistance, the MVS assumes the responsibility of relocating affected animals to nearest rescue centres or field stations, as the need may arise.
Keeping in mind rescue missions of previous years, the team has fabricated multiple rescue cages for mammals, reptiles and birds, which include five cages made especially for deer. Efforts are also being made by the IFAW-WRC team, along with the Assam Forest Department and other local NGOs, to make people aware about the rescue protocols for the wildlife.
Ever since, Dr Bhaskar Choudhary has been working tirelessly to help orphan and injured animals return to the forest and survive independently. The IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center, where he is the lead vet, cares for a wide range of species, including orphan elephant and rhino calves, wild buffaloes, tigers, leopards, deer, and birds.
What do you like about your job?
“I truly feel blessed to have been part of such ventures for the past decade. They have allowed me to experience life in such miraculous and invaluable ways. To see rescued animals back in the wild is worth every sleepless night spent worrying about them, every single drop of sweat spent trying to rescue them.”
A simple, unassuming man who enjoys music, photography and bird watching, Dr Bhaskar Choudhary was honoured with a national award by the Association of Indian Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians. He is now working to enable the placement of trained and equipped wildlife veterinarians in major protected areas across the country to ensure round-the-clock medical attention to displaced and distressed wild animals in need. The hardworking and determined vet ends by saying,