DAY 203: THOSE WHO RESCUE BEARS ARE VERY TIRED INDEED
I meet Kartick Satyanarayan, the co-founder of Wildlife SOS, at an unspecified location in remote India in a dark room over a glass of cold beer. He looks tired.
He keeps his whereabouts on the low-down as many of the wildlife traders that he catches have a score to settle. And that’s the polite way of putting it.
‘I would rather not have my photo taken’ he says and then asks if my iPhone that is lying on the table is recording anything.
It is not.
Kartick – a bear of a man
Kartick is a bear of a man with real presence- but gentle with it. He has thick dark hair and piercing eyes and could take you out with a single swipe, and yet he is softly spoken with and kind face.
His dignified but somewhat wild manner is appropriate.
In the last decade or so, he and the co-founder of Wildlife SOS, Geeta Seshamani, have done more to save wildlife than almost anyone else in the sub-continent. Their most famous – and successful – project involved rescuing all the dancing-bears from the streets of India. Before Kartick was helping, bear cubs were stolen from their mothers and reared on the end of a rope attached to their noses and made to dance for a few rupees. Now there are around six hundred rescued bears in sanctuaries across the country.
Now I know why it was so difficult to arrange this trip to India. Corresponding by email from the UK with Kartick involved week long gaps in communication and half bits of information that left me exasperated…but intrigued.But this makes for a wildly busy life if you excuse the pun. Since walking in the room Kartick has been on the phone eleven times. Our conversation is a staccato-ed dance.
Along with Geeta he is holding together a charity that employs around 200 people. He also looks after various wild animals and intercepts traders selling the likes of illegal tiger skin and speaks on the phone… a lot.
It doesn’t leave much time for other stuff. Like sleep. Or even a relationship.
‘ Clearly I am single. It’s just not possible with everything I do. So I’ve decided not to go down that path’
I mentally compare him with Trevor Weeks from the wild life rescue service in the UK – both about the same age, both broad shouldered and heavy set with beards, both committed to the point of exhaustion.
But it’s a different game out here.
Where Trevor deals with foxes, Kartick deals with tigers, where Trevor might have to confront angry farmers Kartick deals with criminals that want to kill him. Not to take an ounce away from Trevor – a fox feels as much pain as a tiger – but the jungles of India are like the forests of East Sussex on steroids.
Kartick’s phone rings again and he fades off into a muffled conversation so that I can’t quite hear. Something about ‘contraband’ and ‘make sure they have guns’.
I take a deep breath.
I’ve asked to help Kartick with some wildlife rescues – no, I’ve pretty much demanded that I help, I’m on a mission – but now I’m here I am a little worried that my experience of photographing dogs might not be the best training I could have had for what is about to come.
TOMORROW- Just how dangerous is resuing wildlife in India? Can I possibly help?