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Karnataka vet to get coveted Gaj Gaurav Award for saving elephant injured by electric shock

Dr Mirza Vaseem will be bestowed with Gaj Gaurav Award for his efforts that save the life of a female elephant who had been electrocuted

There is no end to jubilation in Karnataka’s Bandipur Tiger Reserve as its veterinarian Dr. Mirza Vaseem has been chosen for the prestigious Gaj Gaurav Award by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. The award will be given on August 12, the World Elephant Day at Angul, Mahanadi Elephant Reserve, Odisha.

Dr. Vaseem has been chosen for this award for his exemplary efforts in saving the life of a cow elephant that had been severely injured by electric shock in February 2023 near BTR. At present the animal is hale and hearty in the wild. His efforts were mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Twitter.

Gaj Gaurav is presented as recognition of good practices adopted by captive elephant owners and outstanding works done by field officers, frontline staff and private custodians in elephant conservation.

Dr Mirza Vaseem
Dr. Mirza Vaseem

Hailing from Mysuru, Dr. Vaseem did his BVSc from Karnataka Veterinary Animal and Fisheries Sciences University and post-graduation, MVSc in Wildlife Medicine from Massey University, New Zealand. He also has certification in Clinical Medicine and Surgery from Canada and has North American Veterinary License granted by the Canadian Veterinary Organisation.

In an email interview to India Narrative, Dr. Vaseem talks about Gaj Gaurav Award, what it means to him, the electrocution incident of the cow elephant and human-animal conflict.

Excerpts from the interview:

How does it feel to be chosen for the prestigious Gaj Gaurav award?

Gaj Gaurav is an honour bestowed by the highest authority in charge of Environment and Climate change in India. I feel overwhelmed and excited to be part of the contingent that will receive the same honour in years to come. Acknowledgements like these definitely go a long way in encouraging young professionals like me to strive harder and instil a sense of discipline in our work ethic, making us fare better at what we do every day.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Karnataka Forest Department and its officers who have placed their faith in me throughout my tenure with them and nominating me for the aforementioned award.

Share with our readers the incident of electrocution of the cow elephant.

A wild female elephant was found recumbent and comatose in Omkar range of Bandipur Tiger Reserve on February 14, 2023 due to electrocution. We reached the location immediately and found the animal to be having weak vitals and barely making any attempt to move. The animal had a few minutes at best to survive without intervention.

She was treated immediately by restoring fluids, pain medications and other necessary emergency drugs and monitored for the next six to eight hours; following which we assisted the animal to rear up on its feet with the help of a JCB and allowed it to stand.

The animal responded to treatment and with a bit of coaxing walked back into the forest. The elephant was monitored for the next few weeks and found to be active and doing well to this day. The team was headed by the Conservator and Field Director who gave ample support and direction in making the rescue operation successful, Division ACF and Range staff apart from the veterinarian.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the effort to save the elephant…

It is not something we experience in our routine lives. To be acknowledged by the Honourable Prime Minister and Honourable Central Minister for Forests is a rare opportunity and a privilege of a lifetime. We are in fact indebted that our work was noticed by the leaders of our nation, making it an act where the entire country was involved in saving the life of a pachyderm.

How is it possible to mitigate human-animal conflict?

Sufficient research and adaptations in an ever changing ecological landscape are required and these need to be implemented for us to see any change. There’s no doubt that India, especially Karnataka are leading by example in terms of wildlife conservation and man-animal conflict by way of creating awareness, vigilance, rescue ops and translocations of conflict animals ensuring that minimum damage to life and property occurs in spite of being in the centre of a large elephant corridor and harbouring the largest population of flagship species in the world.

Dr Mirza Vaseem
The electrocuted elephant being lifted with JCB

What needs to be done in veterinary science to make conservation more successful?

Wildlife needs to be given as much importance as livestock and pet animal medicine. The curriculum needs to be rewritten to include this field as well. Most of the vets working with wildlife are not trained in wildlife medicine due to lack of experts in the field and that gap needs to be filled with time. We exist because of our forests and we need to take more pride in saving the species that thrive in it.

How can creating public awareness help in conservation?

Public awareness is the keystone of any conservation activity. Instilling an idea of cohabitation and realising how quickly our wild flora and fauna is depleting goes a long way in ensuring peaceful mitigation of wild animal conflict.

Also read: World Elephant Day: Tamil Nadu’s Malasar tribesmen honoured with first Gaj Gaurav Award