After a quick check of his harness, carabiner and helmet, Bhupesh Patil, 25, is ready to go. Tuhin Satarkar, inspects the anchor that holds his partner one final time and starts to gradually lower him on the rope as Patil begins his rappel.
It’s a drill the two have repeated on multiple occasions while climbing across the country. Only this time around, Patil is off to rescue a stranded dog instead of descending a mountain face.
Over the last few years, folks like Patil and Satarkar have combined their passion for climbing alongside animal rescues. The fundamentals remain the same—a safe and secure climb while taking on new challenges. However in this case, there is also a third life at stake besides their own.
Satarkar, 25, started climbing even before he hit teens and decided to volunteer with the Pune-based animal shelter, RESQ, around six years ago. He soon converted it to a full-time job, given the unique skills that he brought to the organisation.
“There was a time when nobody was conducting technical rescues. Once I joined the team, it was possible to tackle more such assignments. As the word spread, we started getting more calls,” Satarkar says.
Patil too was looking to work at a job that would allow him to chase his passion for the outdoors. A couple of years ago, he joined Satarkar at RESQ where they today conduct rescues of birds, animals and reptiles through their climbing skills.
“When we first teamed up around four years ago, it was all about observing the habits of your partner—everything from the speed at which he climbs to realising when he was reaching his limit and was likely to take a fall. Rescue too involves a lot of trust, especially when you find yourself in a tricky situation, where even the rescuer may need to be rescued. Knowing that Tuhin is at the other end of the rope gives me a lot of confidence,” Patil says.
It was no different for Harsha Tej, 26, and Gaurav J, 39. Six years ago, the duo started climbing together on the rocks around Bengaluru and soon realised their common love for animals that started way before climbing entered their lives. Gaurav was used to having all types of creatures at home while growing up, while Tej started rescuing them when still in college. They offered their services to Charlie’s Animal Rescue Centre last year and today conduct complex rescues for them on a voluntary basis. A lot of the expertise that they developed on the mountains are now dedicated to a different cause.
“Some of the skills I learnt while rock climbing such as managing ropes and equipment like quick draws and carabiners, how to make different types of knots and the use of belay devices are very helpful during rescues,” Tej says.
Over time, they realised that certain aspects of conducting animal rescues were quite different from the recreational climbing that they had been practicing until then. For instance, on one occasion while tending to a kite that was stuck in a vent, they had to act spontaneously and pull off the rescue with limited equipment on hand.
“Rock climbing is all about realising your own limits and having some fun along the way. It is way safer because this is a known environment and you can take your time to learn the moves. You don’t really have a sense of responsibility or the pressure that you have while trying to save an animal. Besides, time is never a constraint,” Gaurav says.
“While conducting rescues, you have to improvise and take a call whether it is possible to access the spot and get yourself out safely along with the animal,” he adds.
There were other factors that had to be considered as well. The folks at Shivdurga Mitra in Lonavala, who have been conducting human rescues for the last two decades, had to approach RESQ to understand the nuances of dealing with animals.
“It is important to understand animal behaviour. Humans know that you are coming to rescue them and will assist you in any way possible. But animals can attack you, especially when they are hurt. You have to always keep in mind your own safety,” says Rohit Vartak, 35, of Shivdurga Mitra.
A self-funded organisation that receives donations only at times, Shivdurga Mitra had to invest in equipment such as nets, cages, graspers and extension poles before taking to animal rescues.
“Once a human is rescued, he is either tended to by a family member or handled by the police in case of a death. But when it comes to animals, you need to treat them in case of injuries and look after them until they are ready to be released,” says Sunil Gaikwad, 48, who is also training the next generation of climbers at Shivdurga Mitra.
“We administer first aid ourselves and have tied up with RESQ for any further treatment that may be needed. There is a gaushala nearby where we keep them until they’ve recovered,” he adds.
These climbers have now started guiding other colleagues at their respective organisations, equipping them with basic climbing skills that could be put to use when extra hands are needed. Tej and Gaurav have four team members under them who have been handed out fitness regimes. They are also invited to hone their climbing at the latter’s indoor gym called Let’s Play Climbing in Bengaluru. Patil and Satarkar have been training the drivers of their rescue vehicles on how to handle equipment, since they are usually around at every rescue.
Patil too has expanded his skill set by learning how to deal with all kinds of creatures from snakes to cows, besides tracking and trapping those in the wild such as leopards and crocodiles. He has also learnt how to administer first aid to rescued animals. The job often entails odd hours, though it gives him another opportunity to climb alongside Satarkar. And once off work, the two are back to plotting their next escapade in the mountains.