Wildlife Conservation And Animal Welfare Association
One hundred kilometres from Mumbai, in the green belt of Dahanu, the Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association works against the odds to protect sea turtles, plus an array of other wildlife, writes Anirudh Nair.
Photo: Dheeraj Nanada
Ancient beings wallowing in an artificial tank, when the sea is only a stone’s throw away. The irony was stark, when along with a colleague I visited the Injured Sea Turtle Treatment and Transit Centre at Dahanu, located around 100 km. from Mumbai, and operated under the aegis of the Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association (WCAWA) and the Maharashtra Forest Department.
When we arrived, visiting consultant veterinarian Dr. Dinesh Vinherkar, who was busy attending to an injured animal, asked us to have a look around the centre. Apart from the four olive Ridley turtles in the large holding tank, there were other species of turtles in smaller isolation tanks, all in various stages of recuperation.
Dr. Vinherkar later informed us that while some of these turtles were found beached in and around Dahanu by WCAWA’s volunteers, others were confiscated from illegal possession or rescued from drying ponds. Those that get beached are usually the victims of discarded fishing nets, used by the increasing number of trawlers plying across these waters, in which they get entangled. Fishermen find it easier to hack off a turtle’s flippers than risk damaging their expensive nets to untangle them before tossing them back into the sea. The organisation’s 100-strong volunteer network regularly scours beaches in the area for such turtles, which are examined for injuries, treated and allowed to recuperate at the centre. Before they are released, the turtles undergo a swimming ability test. If their mobility in the holding tank is satisfactory, then they must prove that they can swim in the sea. Yet, there is no guarantee that these evolutionary marvels will be safe once they are released. Pollution, poaching, habitat destruction and climate change have combined to turn the tide against these creatures that have successfully survived Nature’s challenges for millions of years.
The story of how an informal animal rescue group took the shape of an NGO in 2013 is a fascinating one that WCAWA founder, Dhaval Kansara, narrated to us over refreshing glasses of Maaza. Today, the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Palghar district, Kansara’s affair with turtles began as a teenager when he and a young boy hailing from a fishing family ensured for three years in a row that the hatchlings of an olive Ridley locally known as langdi kahad (crippled turtle) made their way to the sea. In 2011, when an alarming number of injured and dead turtles washed up ashore, along with other wildlife enthusiasts, Kansara, approached Gajendra Narawane, IFS, then Deputy Conservator of Forest, Dahanu, who played a key role in establishing the centre near the forest office premises.
This crew of wildlife lovers overcome challenges every single day in their mission to return turtles to where they rightfully belong. Their flagship programme ‘Save Sea Turtle, Save Sea’ aims to build awareness among the fishing community on the importance of protecting these endangered reptilians. Involving community members during the release of rescued turtles has made a tangible difference in raising awareness for sea turtle conservation in the region.
In the middle of our conversation, Dr. Vinherkar revealed that a hawksbill sea turtle hatchling is currently at the centre. It was a surprising find considering that no nesting turtle sites have been recorded from nearby areas. WCAWA and the Maharashtra Forest Department have in fact declared a prize money of Rs. 5,000 to anyone giving information about egg laying by sea turtles. He informs us that if the little one passes a swimming test later in the day, they will release it into the sea.
There are other individuals as well, who are drawing attention to their conservation and welfare work.
Dr. Vinherkar’s love for his former wards was palpable as he told us about Namo, an olive Ridley turtle that was fitted with a one-of-its kind artificial flipper developed by him; Peace, a green sea turtle that was found with more than 1,000 leeches on its body, treated and successfully released, and another green sea turtle, Queen, which was found stuck in a discarded fishing net, nursed back to health and released at Dahanu beach by actor Alia Bhatt.
Photo Courtesy: WCAWA
Seeing the difficulty with which volunteers carried injured turtles on motorbikes, animal rights activist Fizzah Shah donated an ambulance to WCAWA, which is today India’s first sea turtle rescue ambulance capable of accommodating upto five rescuers. The organisation now receives calls around the clock to rescue all manners of wild creatures in the green belt of Dahanu. Volunteers also conduct awareness programmes at schools and colleges, and train forest officials in wildlife rescue protocols.
As we assembled in expectation around the tank to watch the hatchling paddle along with its much-larger cousins, the team shared its dream of transforming their fledgling centre into a state-of-the art treatment and research facility comprising a turtle orphanage, information and awareness centre. Going forth, they hope to satellite tag rescued turtles for long-term monitoring and work in collaboration with like-minded individuals and organisations. And when we learnt that the rookie swimmer must wait another week to return to the sea, we figure it is time for us to head back to the city.
How You Can Help:
While the Injured Sea Turtle Treatment and Transit Centre at Dahanu is equipped with basic infrastructure, volunteers are frequently forced to employ jugaad (do it yourself) techniques to care for the number of turtles and other wild animals they rescue.
1. The centre needs a marine water filtration unit costing Rs. 10-12 lakh to keep holding tanks for turtles clean. Currently water is filtered manually through a laborious, time-consuming process.
2. The centre needs an X-ray machine.The team currently get X-ray tests done at local diagnostic centres for humans, many of which turn them away.
3. The centre needs at least 20 isolation tanks each costing Rs. 25,000. It currently has five tanks donated by the Vasant J. Sheth Foundation.
4. The centre needs deep freezers to store turtle food and preserve dead specimens for taxidermy, electrocautery and laser therapy units, a computer and a printer.
Wildlife Conservation and Animal Welfare Association (
), Dr. Dinesh Vinherkar (
) or Dhaval Kansara:
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 10, October 2017.