Diwali Special: Back to the wild
- Rehabilitating injured and displaced urban wildlife is a major goal of Bengaluru-based People for Animals
- Cases of injuries among urban wildlife are going up, and this is directly related to the way urban spaces take over farms and forests Page 15
Earlier this year, during a scorching and dry summer, spotted deer from the Turahalli forest, a heavily wooded area on the fringes of south-western Bengaluru, broke the green cover in a desperate search for water. As in many other areas of the city, this locality has seen rapid urbanization, creating a peculiar confluence of wilderness and concrete. The deer that had strayed out of the forest in search of water were soon attacked by stray dogs; some were killed.
The non-profit animal welfare organization People for Animals (PFA) and its famed urban wildlife hospital, which happens to be located opposite the Turahalli forest, swung into action. With the help of volunteers, the team of veterinarians and workers at PFA organized water tankers to go into the forest and replenish water sources so the deer wouldn’t have to leave the forest. They did this for 45 days till the rains broke and the water table started recharging. “Next year, we won’t wait for the crisis to go so far. We will start monitoring the water sources in the forest proactively and refill them if needed," Navaz Shariff, the chief veterinarian of PFA’s animal hospital, says as we walk around parts of its 6-acre campus on a recent morning.
The PFA, founded in 1996, initially focused on the rights and needs of both domestic and wild animals, but the founders later took a conscious decision to focus on the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, orphaned and displaced urban wildlife. Over the years, it has built up expertise on the treatment and rehabilitation of almost 200 species of mammals, birds and reptiles, with 150 animals rescued on average each month—jackals, blackbucks, flying squirrels, bats and the rare slender loris; birds like the great horned owl, Eurasian sparrowhawk, little grebe, painted stork and the white-headed munia; and reptiles like the Indian rock python, saw-scaled viper and Indian tent turtle.
At the time of this visit, 160 animals were being treated at the animal hospital, including 23 under intensive care. The PFA has a robust volunteer programme—more than 2,000 people on the roster at the Bengaluru centre alone—and even though the actual handling of animals is mostly left to veterinarians and trained rehabilitators, there are a lot of activities volunteers participate in, including rescue and rehabilitation. Over time, volunteers who show aptitude and want to work full-time with the centre are inducted as interns and eventually become members of the staff.
From behind a glass screen, I watch animal rehabilitator Anisha George feed a baby bird pellets of food. It is painstaking work. The bird is no bigger than a human thumb and appears to go to sleep after each pellet. George patiently wakes it up and feeds it with a pair of tweezers, making a record of how much the bird has eaten in a notebook. She started off as a volunteer, later becoming an intern, and now has a full-time job as a rehabilitator who prepares animals for release into the wild.
Next, I join a small group of volunteers sorting bird feathers. “Will they be used for, err, decoration?" I ask the vet, Meghana Pemmaiah, supervising this activity. She laughs out loud. “No, no, it’s for a process known as ‘imping’, where we take the feathers from a dead bird and transplant them on the wings of an injured bird, which considerably speeds up the recovery process," Pemmaiah explains.
One of the main tasks for volunteers at PFA is creating tools for “enrichment"—structures and objects placed in enclosures, such as swings, nests, perches and mazes, to make the habitat more interesting. Animals in captivity, as most of the rescues at PFA perforce are since they are recovering from injuries or are being rehabilitated, need stimulation and activity, or they start displaying aggressive or apathetic behaviour, says the vet.
These enrichment tools are of vital importance in primate rehabilitation. Dozens of macaques, injured by wires, dogs or humans, are rescued by the PFA every month, and the goal is to release them into the wild. For this, socialization and the development of independence among the animals, many of whom were rescued as babies and raised at the centre, is essential. PFA’s campus boasts of a world-class primate rehabilitation centre built with support from the real-estate company Bren—a spacious and well-designed set of two 30ft-high enclosures set amidst the wilderness, a little apart from the main campus. Just before they are released into the wild, the macaques and other monkeys must be isolated from humans so that they learn to fend for themselves, explains Shariff. While volunteers are not allowed to interact with these animals, they create valuable enrichment tools and design activities for them.
Currently, the PFA needs volunteers to run a campaign for the slender loris, shy and retiring tree-dwelling mammals that used to be found in large numbers in the Western Ghats till urbanization began taking a toll. Slender lorises are also hunted—locals believe many of their organs and body parts have magical powers. “In some parts of Karnataka, black magic is still widespread, and these gentle nocturnal creatures are killed for their eyeballs. They have big, luminous eyes and there is a horrible belief that eating them will cure blindness or cataract," says Shariff.
Cases of injuries among urban wildlife are going up, he says, and this is directly related to the way urban spaces take over farms and forests. “When a snake comes into your house, it’s not the snake that is encroaching upon your territory—it was his habitat that you have encroached," says Shariff.
CALL TO ACTION
Need to know: Volunteers shouldn’t expect to handle animals right away, focusing on supplementary activities initially.
You could also: Donate to the PFA, or sponsor animals.
Essentials: Hats and sunblock.
Reach out to: firstname.lastname@example.org
FIRST PUBLISHED26.10.2019 | 10:40 AM IST