Open Well Rescue: Wildlife SOS Saves A Striped Hyena

June 27, 2022 | By Avni Gupta
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It was in the early hours of morning when the locals from a small village in Maharashtra called Buchkewadi were alarmed by loud, distressed calls. While locating the source of these screeches, the villagers reached a nearly 30-feet-deep well. Here, they were taken aback as they spotted a Striped Hyena (locally known as Lakkad bagga or Taras) scuffling in the water. Aware and informed of the do’s and don’ts in such a situation, the villagers immediately contacted the Forest Department. The officials alerted the Wildlife SOS team based out of the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre to assist them in this operation.

animals become victims to open wells
Villagers in Maharashtra were alerted by distressing calls of a Striped Hyena fallen into a well. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Equipped with rescue gear and a trap cage, four highly-trained and experienced members of our team set out. Despite the rugged landscape, our team reached the location in just about an hour. The rescuers lowered a trap cage into the open well, close enough for the animal to jump in. After a few attempts, the drenched Striped Hyena successfully entered the trap cage and was carefully lifted out.

Our veterinary team conducted an on-site medical examination to make sure the animal suffered from no major injuries. Suspected to be a female, the hyena had sustained a few minor abrasions on the body due to the unexpected fall from the height. She was immediately tended to by our veterinary team and soon, when she was deemed fit, a suitable forested area in the neighbourhood was chosen for her release. The teams released the hyena away from human habitation so that an unfortunate event like this could be avoided in the future.

trap cage lowered in the well
Using a trap cage, the Striped Hyena was rescued from the 30-ft-deep well. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Open wells have served humankind since the Indus Valley civilization for domestic as well as irrigation purposes. This allows people to settle in areas that are away from rivers or other water bodies. In India, numerous cities were enabled by the presence of wells. It is estimated that there are approximately 8.7 million uncovered wells in the Indian subcontinent today. Ranging from 1 metre to 70 metres in depth, they are dug deep enough to reach the water table. They’ve served as the primary source of water and support system for agricultural fields. However, they often bring tragic news for the wildlife inhabiting the areas.

Today, as the lines between forests and human-inhabited landscapes continue to blur, open wells have been recognised as a serious threat to wildlife. In the past decade, around 1,500 animals have fallen to their death in the uncovered wells around forests in Maharashtra. Even if animals miraculously evade death, they can be left permanently injured, which renders them unable to return to the wild. This leads to a lifetime of pain and trauma.

striped hyena in a well
Nocturnal animals like Striped Hyena are more prone to becoming victims of the open wells. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

A Threat to the Wild and Free

Uncovered wells built in close proximity to forested areas often lead to wild animals being trapped in them. Open wells often lack walls, fencing, or coverings that can prevent anyone from falling inside. Those with dry foliage lying nearby pose even higher threats to the wild animals. Wells are death traps to animals like Striped Hyena, Civet Cat, Sloth Bears, Crocodiles, and Indian Leopards, who become victims of these human-induced hurdles installed amidst large fields. As they set out on a foraging prowl, they sometimes stumble into these wells that dot the margins of agricultural fields. In fact, Leopard cubs, as young as three months old, have also fallen into uncovered wells. 

The Striped Hyena is known to be a scavenger the often prowls after sunset. In an incident like this, a nightly routine can sometimes take an unexpected turn for the worst. With open wells perforating the country’s landscape, the species frequently becomes an unfortunate victim of falling into them. Swift action undertaken by the locals, the Forest Department, and the Wildlife SOS rescue team saved the life of this Hyena.

striped hyena in the wild
Striped Hyena faces numerous anthropogenic threats throughout its range. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Wildlife SOS to the Rescue

Wildlife SOS frequently receives distress calls from all over the country of wild animals fighting for their lives after falling into uncovered wells. Our team is highly trained to conduct such operations while ensuring minimal stress to the animal and avoiding any mishaps. With years of experience, the rescue team members reach the location along with effective tools and techniques.

The strenuous rescue operation mentioned above saved the Striped Hyena’s life, but the dangers that come along uncovered wells require a permanent solution. Such incidents bring the glaring truth of unplanned urbanisation to the front, therefore spreading awareness about these incidents becomes paramount. Wildlife SOS aims to reach the higher authorities to cover these wells and fence them, in order to protect animals from falling prey to such negligence. Moreover, our team continues to educate and train the locals residing in conflict-prone areas on how to act promptly.

striped hyena released back in the wild
After rescuing the animals, Wildlife SOS conducts a medical examination and releases them back in the wild. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Understanding the life-threatening risk posed by open wells, Wildlife SOS is pioneering a monumental effort to cover open wells in Maharashtra. We have partnered with the local communities to reduce the risk of death to people as well as wildlife. You can make a difference by signing our petition against open wells. If you wish to contribute towards this cause, please click here.

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