Which one of us has not seen the abandoned hack-horse, the milch-cow left on the streets, the pet dog bought on a whim and ignored or starved once the novelty wears off? Which one of us has not seen a sloth bear being made to dance by the "madari", been concerned about the parakeets that fortune-tellers put in tiny cages, or seen the plight of circus animals? Add to these the animals that are routinely injured or tortured in the name of festivals or religion, and you begin to see a sad picture of survival against the odds.
Brahminy Kite at the Bannerghatta Rescue Centre (pic: Deepa Mohan)
"Urban wildlife"…the term includes animals that frequent our cityscape, sometimes forming part of the human existence, sometimes leading lives parallel to ours, or sometimes, by accident or mishap, coming into the urban areas from the forest that still abut our city. And all too often, animals suffer injuries that range from the simple to the grievous. The prospects for the rehabilitation and re-release into the wild are not great, but would be much worse were it not for Bengaluru’s animal shelters.
Bengaluru’s animal shelters work to alleviate the lot of the suffering animals and birds. I have come personally in contact with two such NGOs. CUPA (Care Unlimited Plus Action) is an organization that was founded in 1991 by Crystal Rogers, an Englishwoman who lived in Bengaluru when she was 85 years old. She started the registered charitable trust in two rooms in her own home. The organization has since grown into a large one, and runs from three centres. The main one is in the campus of the Karnataka Veterinary and Fisheries Science University (KVAFSU), at Hebbal. The second one is the Animal Birth Control Centre in Koramangala. They also run a centre in R T Nagar.
A sister concern is the Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre, run by the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in collaboration with the State Wildlife Department of Karnataka, which I went to recently, when I heard that a large group of parakeets had been rescued and needed treatment, is very close to the Bannerghatta National Park:
Another organization that works for the rescue and rehabilitation of animals and birds is People for Animals,which was launched in 1996, by Namrata Dugar, Alpana Bhartia, Gauri Maini and Arushi Poddar. In the past nine years, an animal hospice has been set up in Kengeri. The place has a resident veterinarian, and facilities for the treatment of wounded, sick and displaced animals, snakes and birds. The PfA shelter/hospice is on Uttarahalli Road.
How they operate
Both CUPA and PFA to sensitize people to the plight of injured animals, too. They often run campaigns to bring the issues of malpractices like torture of circus or domesticated animals, ritualistic animal torture/slaughter, and illegal trade in animals which are kept as pets. PfA, for example, ran a campaign to bring to people’s notice the fact that parakeets are often ill-treated by fortune-tellers, but to just take the parakeet away doesn’t work as it makes a poor family starve; so the solution has to be holistic.
Section of audience at a PfA workshop (pic: Deepa Mohan)
Money, of course, is a major issue for animal rescue. Cages, medicines, water, food, salaries for the basic staff who maintain the shelter…the totals just keep adding up…and the figures keep going up, too. Fund-raising is one of the major activities and sometimes it tends to subsume the very running of the shelters. PfA recently had a "learn to cook some Chinese dishes" initiative with the support of the Grand Ashok. No matter how much money is raised, the demands that the running of the shelter place on the exchequer seem bottomless…and the need to raise more funds looms ahead perpetually.
Care and feeding of the animals and other creatures, again, is not as simple as it looks. A macaque (monkey) for example, cannot be treated and then released in the wild alone; the pack of monkeys in the forest would attack and kill it immediately. Several monkeys must first be introduced to each other in stages, then left to bond together into a troop, and only then can they be released into the wild, and even for this, the place where they were first rescued has to be taken into consideration.
Very often, creatures being held in the shelter pose problems between themselves. If one has a kite, or an eagle, or a leopard in one holding cage, and a parakeet in another, the two cages cannot, obviously, be kept even within sighting distance of one another….even if the predator cannot attack, its presence will stress the prey species a lot and inhibit healing. In this way, the vast variety of animals, birds and snakes that are brought into the shelters pose many logistical problems in and of themselves, apart from the problems of healing them and releasing them into the wild.
Releasing animals in the wild is not always possible, either…if the animal or bird is so badly wounded that it cannot possibly survive in the wild, it cannot, obviously, be rehabilitated. Given the limited space and resources of the shelters, says PfA’s Alpana Bhartia , they even had to ponderi about euthanasia…a difficult option, but one which has to be thought of.
Animal shelters and the public
Workshops that are held to educate the general public form another part of the shelter’s activities sometimes. The idea is that members of the general public will also, with heightened awareness and information, become more interested in, and involved with, the shelter and its activities.
CUPA and PfA also try to educate people on various aspects of wildlife. For example, PfA runs campaigns against the ritualistic torture and killing of animals for religious reasons. This, of course, is a very hard task, and very often, trying to change the mindset of people is not easy. Ranjan Chacko says that during some festivals, black kites are bound by string which has been covered by ground glass, and then made to fly. People in their religious fervour seem to completely overlook the torture that the birds undergo, and they need to have their "eyes opened"…to look at the bird, not as part of a ritual, but as a living being that is being hurt.
KVAFSU-CUPA Animal Shelter
Veterinary College Campus,
Hebbal, Bangalore – 560 024
CUPA Animal Birth Control Centre
Municipal Dog Pound
Bangalore – 560 047
[Open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.]
CUPA Animal Care Clinic
No. 4, (Old No.39/1)
New Devegowda Road,
Thimmaiah Garden, Ist Main, R.T. Nagar,
Bangalore – 560 032.
Tel; 22947312/ 22947313
[Open from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.]
Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC)
Survey No. 129, Jigni Hobli,
Anekal Taluk, Bannerghatta,
Bangalore – 560 083
Tel:91-080-22947307/ 22947300/ 22947301
People for Animals
Survey no. 67, Uttarahalli Road
Kengeri, Bangalore 560 060
Phone: +91 80 2860 3986/2860 4767/2273 3350;
mobile +91 99803 39880;
Fax +91 80 2860 3986
Both CUPA and PfA depend on volunteers to enable injured fauna to be picked up, and brought in for treatment. The shelters have given telephone numbers that anyone can call when they find an injured or distressed animal, and depending on who is available, and when, the logistics of bringing the animal to the shelter are worked out. The challenge with relying on volunteers is that the network quickly becomes obsolete as the volunteers move on with their lives. This places a tremendous strain on the shelters, as the work continues topile up but the people who are helping with it melt away. It would really help if there was an organized database of volunteers which was constantly updated as time passes.
Another problem faced by the shelters is that of the casual visitor; those people who just come out of curiosity, have a look and then go away. If, as in the case with BRC, the shelter is situated on forest land, the problems of casual visitors wandering off into the jungle is a pretty serious one. While visitors have to be encouraged because some of them will ultimately engage themselves, it is still disheartening when all that happens is a visit with nothing to show for it, from the shelter’s point of view, but a bunch of fresh problems that the NGO can well do without. Encouraging visitors and yet discouraging too many of them is a delicate tightrope that has to be trodden. Casual visitors are very much discouraged by the Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre.
A further difficulty is, of course, the various rules and regulations that have to be observed. A lot of rescued star turtles cannot be returned to the wild immediately, for example, because they were caught in one place, rescued somewhere else, and handed over to the shelter. Issues of state and wildlife permits come in, the chief amongst them being the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which has been amended up to 1993—and the laws that are meant for the animals’ protection, that the smugglers and traders flout blithely, are the very things that inhibit rehabilitation. Time passes while the turtles remain in the shelter, while the legal and paperwork tangles are sorted out…or the attempt is made to comply with the regulations and release the animals without flouting the rules.
With all these difficulties to overcome, the effort is yet being made, manfully (or personfully!) at the various animal rescue shelters of Bangalore. Several volunteers work hard and long, to ensure that our fellow creatures, who are injured or distressed by their contact with humanity, are treated and healed and then, hopefully, rehabilitated back in the wild.