Bangalore’s Rescuers of the Wild

BENGALURU: There are four monkeys in the indoor cages at the Bannerghatta Rescue Centre (BRC). The oldest sits facing the wall, sightless. He has gone completely blind after suffering an electrocution, and his fur has turned yellow where ointment has been smeared on the open wounds beneath it. The cage next to him contains two juveniles.
Only a few weeks old, they would fit comfortably in the palm of a hand.
They are still unweaned, and drink from feeding bottles like babies, distrustfully eyeing unfamiliar people.
Across from them is another juvenile, slightly older, but displaying none of the agility and verve of a monkey his age. The reason is simple: he has lost his hind leg to a dog attack. These four represent some of the latest rescues sent to the BRC. They join a long list of patients at the centre, many with similar stories. There are parakeets, seized from fortune tellers, whose feathers are slowly growing back; an orphaned painted stork, still not in his resplendent adult plumage. There are snakes with spinal injuries and lacerations. There is a black kite awaiting a prosthetic titanium leg, and an immature (and panicked) Indian Koel.
It isn’t just cats and dogs that are in need of rescuing anymore. Urban wildlife too, has found itself in need of treatment, care, and rehabilitation. People For Animals (PFA) in Bengaluru deals exclusively with wildlife, as does CUPA’s BRC. The two organizations often coordinate rescues, with PFA covering animals that come up near Jakkur, Hebbal, and surrounding areas
(where they are based), and BRC fielding calls from South and Central Bengaluru. The challenges and animals they deal with are radically different from the “usual” domestic rescues. Dr. Silambarasan, the night veterinarian at PFA, says that the most common species they encounter are Bonnet Macaques, the ubiquitous grey monkeys that we see all over the city. They are
often victims of electrocution, as they use wires to move from tree to tree. Others fall prey to speeding vehicles, dog bites, and, in the case of juveniles, being displaced from their families. Silambarasan recalls receiving five monkeys in a single night at PFA. Three had been electrocuted almost beyond recognition, one had tetanus, and one was a displaced baby.
Black kites are another major species who arrive at both centres. Every kite-flying season, these avians stand a chance of being entangled in the glass-coated manja string of paper kites. As the animal struggles, it gets more and more entangled. Patients at the hospital often arrive almost dead from blood loss and stress.
Unlike domestic animals, wild animals also suffer from “capture myopathy”, in which they become stressed and traumatised by human contact, which they are unfamiliar with. This means that diagnosis and treatment itself is fraught with the danger and risk of causing more damage to the animal.
Not all patients at PFA and BRC have accidental injuries. Snakes often come in with wounds inflicted directly on them by bystanders. It is a reaction of fear, says Dr. Roopa, who works at BRC. The results for the animal are deadly. She recalls the case of a huge cobra at Gottigere, only a few kilometres from the centre. A crowd gathered and cut off the snake’s escape, and a
local brave used a stick to hit the animal’s head, killing it instantly. “The head was almost split into two,” she said. Treating reptiles presents its own challenges. At PFA, Silambarasan has encountered turtles and tortoises which have been run over by vehicles. To him, along Dr. Nawaz and Dr. Karthik, falls the task of reconstructing shells and stitching together wounds.
Sometimes they have to coax recalcitrant patients out of their shells for treatment. Since snakes’ skin doesn’t heal as fast as that of mammals or birds, Dr. Roopa often has to keep injured snakes in the centre till they have shed their skin a few times.
And along with this, they all run the risk of being bitten in the course of their work. Most snakes use dry bites (in which venom is not injected), but wet bites do occur, says Dr. Roopa. If one is bitten, she recommends staying calm, going to hospital, and simply monitoring for the signs of envenomation before proceeding with treatment.
But other practices are darker still. Only a few days ago, the BRC played host to a slender loris, and they currently house fourbarn owls and a mottled wood owl. All were meant to be victims in black magic rituals, which are particularly prevalent in the
city. Roopa has encountered live Barn Owls whose skulls have been opened, with surgical precision, to expose the brain.
Lorises suffer a more gory fate. They are used as voodoo dolls. When rescued, they arrive with severed limbs, damaged genitals, and needles inserted into their vital organs and eyes. On her desk stands a macabre and sobering reminder of this endangered, schedule II species: a foetus of a loris, suspended in formaldehyde. Its mother arrived a few days earlier, showing
signs of trauma and use in black magic. She died a day after her miscarriage. Ironically, this barbaric practice is typically limited to the privileged and wealthy. “Your average labourer, construction worker, or middle-class individual probably can’t afford to get a loris.” pointed out Roopa. “The mantravadi, from what I know, decides on a victim depending on how much money you
have. If you have, say, a hundred rupees to give him, he’ll probably just cut up a lime with some kumkum on the side of the road. If you have some more, it’ll be an egg; if you have a little more, it’ll become a chicken,” she estimates that a loris probably costs lakhs to use in a ritual. It is telling that most lorises are seized from slightly wealthier localities, such as Malleshwaram and
Electronics City (what Roopa refers to, tongue-in-cheek, as the “MLA belt”).
The fortune teller is reputed to be able to “connect” the loris with his clients’ intended victim. Often this is done using hair and nails from the victim. In the absence of these, he or she can make do with a pinch of mud from the person’s footprint. After this, the real trouble begins. Either the mantravadi or one of his associates goes out to trees that are known to attract this animal.
After dark, they simply shine a torch into the canopy, and the loris’ huge eyes shine down like beacons. After that, a quick climb and a swiftly thrown towel secure the unfortunate prize. Like an old time mafioso, the witch-doctor can then allegedly “fix” the victim – at the cost of the poor loris.
Their latest arrival has a less traumatic story. She’s a beautiful golden jackal, seized from a farmhouse on Kanakapura Road.
Since she’s been treated and is healthy, the team at BRC is now doing a “soft release”. Since jackals, like dogs, imprint easily
on a place and people, they have allowed her to live temporarily in her cage. They leave the gate open for her to move in and
out as she pleases. Eventually, they hope, she will become less attached to the enclosure, and make her own way in the
In the face of all this heartbreak, of course, the centres have their own woes. While they have developed a network of rescuers
on the ground, wildlife often succumb to over-enthusiastic or fearful crowds. Looming behind this is the ever-present spectre of
the cost of food, medicine, and equipment. “I’d love to have an X-ray unit here” says Roopa. “But before that, i’ll need power
back-up. There’s no point getting costly, beautiful equipment only to have it fuse because of erratic power supply.” And, of
course, they can only expect the unexpected, so they have to stock up for everything. February to March is “baby season”.
Hundreds of orphans and displaced juveniles come their way, some weaned, others feeding on special formula milk. There’s
no telling whether new arrivals will demand meat, fish, fruit, grubs, or seed.
So what is it that keeps these people going? Silambarasan gave up lucrative jobs at a stud farm and pet food company in
Puducherry to work for PFA in Bengaluru; Roopa spurned the “safe” option of working with cattle to begin working with wildlife.
Anand, who tirelessly rescues animals all over the city and lives at BRC 24/7, used to be a mechanic. Why do they do what they
do? “Job satisfaction,” chirps Dr. Silambarasan cheerfully. “I was tired of doing work which had no meaning. I’m much happier
here, working with an NGO that’s actually helping animals.” He is, perhaps, hinting at a greater truth that is often left unsaid:
that somewhere around us, great wells of compassion and humanity are still to be found – if only we go looking for them.
People who would like to report a wild creature in distress can contact both PFA as well as CUPA.
PFA (emergency rescue) — +91 9900025370.
CUPA (Anand) — +91 9901510394.
– Jayaditya Vittal

Protect wildlife, protect nature.

Together we can change this world.