• DAY 343: THE DIRTY FACE OF SPANISH PIG FARMING

    Sep 05 2013
    The eyes have it. My goal is to capture the faces - and eyes - of the pigs in intensive farms. Perhaps that can help me - and you - relate to them as individuals better

    The eyes have it. A pig in a Spanish intensive farm that I just photographed. This pig is NOT covered in outdoor mud. I can only assume it is shit. This pig has spent its entire life on hard floors with no bedding, away from light, cramped in a small space. My goal is to capture the faeces – sorry, faces – of the pigs in intensive farms. Perhaps that can help me – and you – relate to them as individuals.

    If there is one theme to this year it is this: to connect

    If there is one aspect of intensive farming that makes it so powerful it is this: it is hidden from view

    If there one way to relate to animals it is by meeting their eyes.

    If there is one thing I ask of you it is – to keep looking. 

    For all you may read about the horrors of intensive farming, the grisly facts and figures, there is nothing so powerful – or transformative – as meeting a pig face to face that is stuck in a shit-filled dark shed with no light and little space to move.

    As a photographer I spend a lot of time focusing on subjects’ eyes. Look this way please. Yet an animal’s gaze that can be even more powerful than a human’s. Partly because they have no words – the eyes are our way in – and partly because they don’t know how to lie. The eyes are our point of connection.

    The above pig – and those below – were photographed on my first day in Spain, inside a small hut planted anonymously on a hot, dry hillside. My intention with these is not to take pictures that shock, rather pictures that communicate something of the emotional experience of being an animal in an intensive farm. It is the eyes.

    The pigs are both scared of me and intrigued. The heat is hard to bear, the floor covered in excrement and the pigs closely confined

    The pigs are both scared of me and intrigued. The heat is hard to bear, the floor covered in excrement and the pigs closely confined

    Young pigs being reared for meat.

    Young pigs being reared for meat.

    A sow, one of many, in a gestation crate

    A sow, one of many, in a gestation crate

    My goal is to go undercover into as many intensive pig farms as I can and already I’ve managed to get into one farm as a supposed reporter and two others with the help of an informed and experienced local. I cannot mention his name, so we might as well call him Manuel and assume he is vastly tall or perhaps really really small. Maybe with bright blue hair. Whatever your imagination wants.

     

    Catalonia in North East Spain is a hot spot for intensive pig farming.

    Catalonia in North East Spain is a hot spot for intensive pig farming.

     

    Catalonia (Catalunya) – the heart of Spanish intensive pig farming

    I am in Catalonia, the beautiful territory around Barcelona in the North East of Spain that slides down from the Pyrenees towards the sea. Summer refuses to leave – the earth is dry and the heat rises off the tarmac yet the sprawling hills are also rich with trees and long grass.

    But in those hills are many small secrets.

    This area is home to a vast number of small intensive pig farms that are dotted around the countryside and to the untrained eye  appear as nothing other than quaint farm buildings.  Inside they are hot and cramped and festering with thousands upon thousands of lives that pass year-in year-out without ever touching natural soil or grass.

    A prettier side to Catalonia

    A prettier side to Catalonia

    My contact – did I call him Manuel? – has been into these places before. He is a vegan. He is young. He is more morally developed than me. Of this I am sure.

    We sit down in the morning and plan our day.

    Will we get busted? Will they make me try some sweaty ham?

    Read on…and more importantly keep looking.

    A sow awaits birth of her piglets in a farrowing crate.

    A sow awaits birth of her piglets in a farrowing crate.

     

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  • DAY 305: HAVE I FINALLY LOST IT? RESCUING FROGS WHILST AVOIDING TINY DANCERS IN HANOI

    Jul 26 2013

    The start of this video is a little grim but don’t worry, it quickly fades into farce. At the time of making this I was all enveloped – now looking back on it I worry for my sanity.

    There is a lake in central Hanoi which is ‘protected’ from fishing. It lies serene in the heart of the old town amidst the incessant urban busyness around it. I have just released some fish and frogs into this lake from a rather brutal market. This sounds reasonable enough but I found myself walking round and round this lake, through dancers, badminton players, tourists, street vendors, tai-chi experts, all the while carrying a bag of frogs and live fish, panicking about where was best to release them.

    The street markets in Vietnam are fairly grim. I never thought I would wish death upon a creature like I have just done now. But seeing the way they kill – or rather don’t kill – the fish to keep them fresh right up until cooking is heartbreaking and makes me what to end it for them sooner rahter than later.

    It’s clear to me, as it shoudl have been a long time ago, that the suffering of fish is no different than the suffering of other creatures. Any distinction was in my mind, caused by a segmentation of compassion that I see echoed throughout the word: some creatures we care about, other creatures we don’t and the reasons and the reasons are never based on logic but prejudice instead.

    Vietnam is over and I feel empty-handed. How many pangolins did  I save?

    Zero.

    But how many could I have saved. I suspect zero .

    This is a global fight, and it begins in the hearts and minds of all of us.

    If you would like more information about pangolins or what you can do then see below:

    1) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them (see below), visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    2) Donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (click here for the CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    3) Support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

    FINALLY – PASS ON THE LINK TO THIS BLOG.

    GO PANGOLINS!!! We have only a few years left to save them. WE CAN’T CRAWL INTO A BALL AND IGNORE THIS.

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  • DAY 302: THE PANGO STING FALLS FLAT: I DELAY FLIGHT BY THREE DAYS ONLY TO MISS THE BOAT BY ONE HOUR

    Jul 23 2013

    There’s one fatal flaw to travelling round the world trying to help animals and writing a blog about it: stories start but they rarely finish.

    I find it hard to give neat Hollywood endings. It’s also find it hard to look like Brad Pitt when accidentally drowning a tortoise.

    Today we arrived at the cool darkness of the banks of the Mekong river to try and witness the illegal pangolin trade coming across from Thailand en route to Vietnam and then China. We got there at the painfully pointless time of 5:45am to find out that we had missed the haul by an hour. Neon lights flickered in the darkness and there were remnants of suffering. Large plastic crates littered the floor. My guide found out a few hours earlier they had been used to transport the poor creatures which were then transferred to bags and put in trucks.

    A 3 day delay to my flight only to watch a murky sunrise over the grey waters of this vast river.

     

    Time is constantly ticking.

    In a few weeks I have a self imposed deadline to start my work on farms and so must leave the pangolin story behind in exchange for some work on pigs that I am doing in Europe. More to follow.

    I was nervous about the filming today.

    I feel an unhealthy mix of excitement and misery every time I find myself pushed into dangerous and illegal situations for the sake of tyring to help or raise awareness. Why do I get into these situations? It proves that so many animals live at the torn edges of society – a place that should be inhabited by no-one.

     

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad...  (from vietnamesenews.vn)

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad… (from vietnamesenews.vn)

     

    Driving back home we saw a woman on the side of the road bent over a dog crying. The dog had just been hit by a bus. It’s face was crushed, neck broken at 90 degrees. A very common fate given that so many dogs are running freely along the roadside. I was surprised to see that level of emotion associated with animals out here. I suppose I’ve become a little too cynical. Of course people care, but their boundaries of compassion are different than ours.

    But everything is so bloody raw here. It gets to me. Perhaps if I stayed here longer I would become numb to it.

    What a terrible thought.

    Tomorrow I’m back to Hanoi where I’m going to visit some more markets in an attempt to save more animals before heading home. As a dear friend said to me recently upon being told of my rescue attempts

    ‘Martin, you are pissing into the wind’

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  • DAY 279: TWO PUPPIES SAVED FROM DOG MEAT TRADE – CAN YOU HELP ME NAME THEM?

    Jul 02 2013

     

    I have rescued these two puppies, but it was a long and painful story that left me feeling awful about some other dogs left behind. But these now have new lives.

    Will you help me name them?

    The first people to donate $50 can name one of these dogs – if you aren’t first then the money goes to feeding them for two whole years!!!!

     Read on.

    The two puppies that were saved from slaughter....

    The two puppies that were saved from slaughter….

    The three dogs that were left behind to a very uncertain fate.

    The three dogs that were left behind to a very uncertain fate. Shall I go back??

    I just heard that two of the pangolins that were seized on the Chinese border are left alive. They are now in Hanoi, 4 hours away, and I have been told I may go but have to wait a day – paperwork, routine, corruption probably, it’s all so frustrating when the poor creatures might have a chance of being saved here in the rescue centre..

    To regain a sense of control I started asking about dogs and whether I could help any. Dogs…my fall back position.

    ‘Oh,’ said the wildlife guide here, ‘it very easy to eat dog. Everyone does it! I take you to a dog meat market’

    ‘No, no, I want to save some dogs not eat them’…then I started thinking. Could I face it? Could I help?

    ‘OK, we go to dog market’

    Unlike the Philippines it is legal to kill and eat dogs over here. The pooches aren’t farmed like in Korea, but this isn’t necessarily that much better. People breed their dogs, keep one or two for utility and sell the rest at 3+ months to restaurants. They may also sell the first one or two dogs if they get sick or dont’ behave or they need the cash. So a relatively free pet  finds itself couped up in a concrete cell behind a restaurant waiting to have its throat slit. No stunning first.

    one of the puppies that would end up for dog meat before it was rescued.

    one of the puppies that would end up for dog meat before it was rescued.

     

     

    Dog meat – not my idea of fun

    The idea of dog meat is as far from my comfort zone as London is from Hanoi. But I feel I need to see where the dogs go to be kept before they are slaughtered. As a recent meat eater attempting to heal the divisions in my soul I ought to look at some painful contradictions: if I ate pig then shouldn’t I see what goes into dog meat?  They are both smart animals, they both have a right to life.

    But what to do then? Do I rescue a dog? Will that not make the whole thing worse? Where do I put it?

    I asked frantically if there was anyone that would care for a dog if I rescued it.

    It turned out that the pangolin keeper, Mr Thang, a 60 year old or so with a kind face, had two dogs at home and another had recently died – at 22 years. I asked if we could go to the market via his house so I could see what conditions he kept them in and when we did I saw a simple but comfortable home where the dogs were well-looked after. It was worth a chance. I promised to provide enough money to pay for 4 years food – $200.

     

    Mr Thang - the pangolin keeper who also has dogs at his home. He agreed to take on this puppies for life. Thank him not me...

    Mr Thang – the pangolin keeper who also has dogs at his home. He agreed to take on this puppies for life. Thank him not me…

     

    Dog meat restaurant visit

    After a short while on our motorbikes, my guide and Mr Thang found a local restaurant that sold dog meat. In the back was a small concrete cell where they kept their dogs – the owner happily showed us three small animals. They sat  in the dark, heads bowed, eyes unwilling to make contact with us. A small bowl of water on rough concrete. The owner took out a stick with a sharp metal hook and prodded the dogs on the necks and they howled. I got furious and stopped him. He laughed at my apparently inappropriate reaction.

    One dog, the smallest, then looked up and stared into my eyes with a hang dog expression and that was too much. I had to get him out. Call me a softy.

    The cell where the dogs were kept

    The cell where the dogs were kept

    Buying a dog from the dog meat trade is a highly suspect thing to do. Short term-ism. You buy one and the owner then buys two more to replace it. And yet…. what is this year about it not following my heart before my head? Rescuing a dog would not solve the dog meat trade but it would solve an entire life for that individual dog. What would I do if that dog was moose or bug?

    But the haggling was a disaster. The man wouldn’t drop below $70 and both my guide and Mr Thank demanded I leave. That was way too much money and he would simply buy another 3 or 4 dogs. I pleaded but they urged me to go, My Thang saying that he thought the dog would be sick and too aggressive. It was his call and reluctanly I got on the motorbike, a bag of invisible guilt hanging off the back of my seat, dragging through the dust as we bumped back towards the rescue centre.

     

    The restaurant owner who controlled his dogs with pole and hook

    The restaurant owner who controlled his dogs with pole and hook

    DO YOU WANT TO NAME A DOG?

    I pleaded to go back. Finally they had a better idea.

    They knew someone that had recently had a litter. The dogs would be bound for the meat market in a few months and we could buy a few who were not sick for very little money. We stopped off at a small farm and Mr Thang’s eyes lit up as we found two perfect dogs for about $10 each. We took them back to his house, introduced them to his other dogs and fed them and watered them. Mr Thang is not a vet but he is a nurse, able to offer injections and elementary care. This is better for the pups than having their throats slit, lets put it that way.

    I gave Mr Thang $100, promised to give him $100 more when he reported back in 3 months on their welfare and left.

    The first two people to donate $50 can name these dogs (if you donate but are not first the money will go to their on going care, food, and medical bills).

    Mr Thang, very happy with his two new additions. Please donate $50 if you want to name them!

    Mr Thang, very happy with his two new additions. Please donate $50 if you want to name them!

    IMG_8814

     

    IMG_8799

     

     

    Still feel awful

    BUt I tell you – I still feel awful about the dogs in the cell.

    What can I do? I’m here to help – I have to get them out…

    thinking hard…

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  • DAY 276: ANTS WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD AND EAT OUR FACES…unless we save the pangolin

    Jun 29 2013
    Pangolins are in a terrible hole? How can we help?.... read on...

    I shall save you from the ants…but you must save me. Pangolins are in a terribly dark place at the moment. How can we help?…. read on…

    For the last few days I’ve been living in a crappy bedroom by the forest spending much of my time clearing baby frogs from under my bed (WHERE DO THEY COME FROM??) and reading about pangos, photographing pangos and hanging out with LUCKY as though we might elope together. 

    We're off to tenerife to get wasted together

    We’re off to tenerife to get wasted together

    Here are some more essential pangolin facts including the little known notion that if they die out we may just be taken over by face-eating termites. Nevertheless, on a daily basis pangos are dying in bags rolled into balls staring at their own tiny penises ….not a way to go for such an important little creature.

    one of eight frogs I have now found under my bed and 'rescued'. What can I say, everyone wants to sleep with me...

    one of eight frogs I have now found under my bed and ‘rescued’. What can I say, everyone wants to sleep with me…

     

    ants will take over the world and eat your face...unless we save the pangolin

    ants will take over the world and eat your face…unless we save the pangolin

    1) WHY SHOULD I CARE? WHICH PANGOLINS EVER WROTE GREAT LITERATURE OR HELPED OLD PEOPLE ACROSS THE ROAD?

    Cuteness aside  pangolins are a vital part of the ecosystem. Kill them and the ants take over the world. Well, to be fair, we dont’ quite know but pangos do eat A LOT of ants and termites.

    But actually – forget that. Let’s be honest. As much as it matters, I don’t care about ants making lots of babies in the jungle and nor do you. If you were as eco-aware as that you’d sleep in a hemp bag and never read this blog because after all, electricity kills. Nevertheless the ants COULD get you.

    Well …how about this. A 70-million-year-old really cool species will go extinct, maybe in a decade or two.

    Actually – forget that too.

    Terribly controversial but I’ve never been as worried about extinction of a species as extinction of an individual. Shoot me now. Its not the idea of Pango as a taxonomic unit in a reference book with a latinate description that worries me as much as the thousands/millions of creatures that are utterly defenceless being killed in the most cruel way possible

    Pain is what hurts. Pain is what matters.

     

    I suffer

    Lucky again…

     

    2) OK, IF WELFARE IS THE ISSUE, HOW BAD IS THE SITUATION?

    Every day tens or even hundreds of pangolins are thought to be smuggled across the borders of Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and China. Exact numbers are not known but we can make a good guess: SHIT LOADS.

    Conservative estimates assume that seizures represent 10% of the total haul. And in 2011 a single seizure of a boat caught 17tonnes of the meat. The zeros in the death toll are too big to fit in my brain. The senseless slow deaths are are horrifying as they are totally SILENT.

    'Lucky' occasionally gets pissed off and sulks in this corner, clinging to the fence. ..but not for long

    ‘Lucky’ occasionally gets pissed off and sulks in this corner, clinging to the fence. ..but not for long

     

    3) BUT YES, HAVE PANGOLINS EVER WRITTEN GREAT LITERATURE OR MUSIC? WHY SHOULD I CARE??

    Actually, yes.Listen to Life’s a Ball and Roll with me (by Adam and the Ants) or try reading…er…that really amazing book with a pangolin pun in the title that I’ve forgotten but is great.

    Lucky takes a while to wake up in the morning (which is his evening) but he gets there in the end...

    Lucky takes a while to wake up in the morning (which is his evening) but he gets there in the end…

    blog3-8

     

    4)  ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT…SO EXACTLY HOW ARE PANGOLINS CAUGHT?

    These are the nets they now use to catch which are considered more ‘humane’ (ie. the pangos die eating their own shit rather than being shot or hung with razor wire). This is not because the traders care about pangolins but because living pangos are worth more.

    They then inject them with water – or if they are lucky, excuse the pun – with rice starch to make them weigh more to sell on the market for profit.Pangolins often die of stomach ulcers caused by stress or the wrong food.

    I repeat – no pangolin has ever bitten anyone. No pangolin ever fought back or swore at anyone. They are innocent.

    The wonderful Phoung of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) in Cuc phoung national park showing the nets that are used to 'humanely' capture the pangolins for the illegal trade

    The wonderful Phoung of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) in Cuc phoung national park showing the nets that are used to ‘humanely’ capture the pangolins for the illegal trade

     

    Fattening up pangolins by holding them down and force feeding rice starch through a pipe. If the pipe goes down the windpipe they die

    Fattening up pangolins by holding them down and force feeding rice starch through a pipe. If the pipe goes down the windpipe they die. Courtesy of ENV vietnam, see link below for the story behind this image…

     

    read this:

    http://envietnam.org/E_News/Daily_News/Fattening_up_pangolins_to_earn_billions_of_VND.html

     

    5) WHY AREN’T THE VIETNAMESE DOING ANYTHING?

    They are.

    A fair bit. But its not making enough of a difference.  There are a huge number of protected parks and there are laws and there are great organisations like the rescue centre I visited (CPCP) or ENV (click here). The problem is that a) the wildlife trade is getting rampant because winnings are high and punishment is low b) the country is somewhat corrupt and politically sticky. We need global support for the current vietnamese efforts (as well as other countries)

    For example, when pangos are confiscated at the border a loophole in the law allows guards to sell them on for ‘sicentific benefit’, which ends up meaning to restaurants or back into the trade. Pangolins are saved and then sold back to the enemy. We hope for this loop hole to close very soon but it could take years.

    When we visit Lucky at night he hears us coming and sticks his snout through the door.

    When we visit Lucky at night he hears us coming and sticks his snout through the door.

    blog3-16

    6) WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT PREACHER MARTIN?

    Look, I know, I know. I feel like a chanting girl at a murder scene waving fluffy things around while crimes are being committed. And if you touch a pangolin it pretty much dies so what hope do I have? Elope with Lucky to a remote island and live off ants?  I’m trying damn hard: I’m going to try to get into the poaching areas or to the smuggling routes to at least witness the trade, but as one of you reminded me, this is a huge international criminal affair that doesn’t offer tourist sightseeing trips. And I’m not vietnamese – I’m 6’4″

     

    Food is stuffed and hidden in bamboo to make the pango work a little...

    Food is stuffed and hidden in bamboo to make the pango work a little…

    or put high up in containers covered with heavy stone...

    or put high up in containers covered with heavy stone…

    ...or stuffed away...

    …or stuffed away…

    7) IS ANYONE THAT IS MORE TALENTED AND POWERFUL THAN YOU, MARTIN, DOING ANYTHING USEFUL?

    For the first time ever, there is a world conference on pangolins happening RIGHT NOW (I think it actually finished today) . 50 of the top pangolin experts are rolling into Singapore to scale up their conservation efforts. The strange thing is WE STILL DON’T MUCH ABOUT THESE CREATURES so don’t think it’s all under control. It isn’t. But its a wonderful start. Dan Challender, Chris Shepherd et all – go protect!!

    http://www.pangolinsg.org/news/

     

     

    8) WHAT CAN I, THE BLOG READER,  DO TO HELP? 

    Strange as it sounds start by

    1)simple caring. Engage your head and heart. It does matter.

    2) Then tell others about it. Pass on this blog, read more about them

    3) Finally stop eating that pangolin burger and curing your baldness by balancing pangolin scales on your head. IT WON’T WORK. Go and pray to the moon – that will.

    4) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them, visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    5) donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    6) Or support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

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  • DAY 266: A FLASH OF INSPIRATION FROM ANIMALS ASIA

    Jun 18 2013

    Last night I went to see a film by the incredible Animals Asia about bear bile farming. They do more work than almost anyone to end some of the horrendous animal welfare abuses in one of the worst places in the world to be an animal. It reminded me we all need inspiration from time to time. Read more about the horrendous bear bile industry here

    I met the legendary found, Jill Robinson – sweet and humble despite being recently voted one of the 50 most powerful women in China (yes, she’s a Brit). Everyone said I need to go to China otherwise I’d be missing the biggest welfare issue of our generation. Yes but I’m white and 6’4″ with no Cantonese/Mandarin etc etc.  Jill suggested I go and I’ll email her. How on earth I get access I simply do not know but I’d jump at the chance.

    animals-asia_1

    I haven’t forgotten about the badger cull but for now the shooting has not started. The government is no doubt waiting for the protesters to take their eye off the ball. They have a window of a few months and could start at any time. I’ll keep you posted.

    Next blog:  some photos from a friend of mine of another dog rescue centre

     

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  • DAY 221: UPDATE ON DELHI STREET PUPPY

    May 07 2013
    Tammy with new bandage who is now safe at the Frendicoes rescue centre in Delhi.

    Tammy with new bandage who is now safe at the Frendicoes rescue centre in Delhi.

    I wanted to check up on the little Delhi street dog with the leg scar that had followed me the other day.

    ‘Tommy’, (who is in fact a girl – let’s call her Tammy for now) ended up being taken to a charity shelter called ‘Friendicoes’, which happens to be the dog shelter started and run by Kartick’s working partner at Wildlife SOS, Geeta Seshamani

    I went to visit the shelter and Tammy bounded up to me perfectly happy despite the large strapping on her legs that had been put on to treat the wound.

    'Tammy' rushes to play with me. Puppies seem to be immune to a certain amount of misery.

    ‘Tammy’ rushes to play with me. Puppies seem to be immune to a certain amount of misery.

    Tammy posing

    Tammy posing

    Friendicoes, a dog sanctuary/charity in Delhi

    Friendicoes, the dog sanctuary/charity in Delhi

    Geeta Seshamani, who runs the dog sanctuary Frendicoes and also co-runs Wildlife SOS, posing with some of her rescued dogs

    Geeta Seshamani, who runs the dog sanctuary Frendicoes and also co-runs Wildlife SOS, posing with some of her rescued dogs

    People waiting to be seen at Frendicoes

    People waiting to be seen at Frendicoes

    The enthusiasm of youth seems to immunise puppies from a certain amount of pain. And now her life had changed completely and she didn’t seem too fazed – from a dirty car park to a rescue centre and soon…she’ll be going to a new home.

    While I was at the centre I looked around at the other dogs there. Whereever you go in the world there is a level of brutality to some dogs that is hard to understand.

    Another dog that came in with severe burns. Sometimes people throw battery acid over dogs they don't like.

    Another dog that came in with severe burns. Sometimes people throw battery acid over dogs they don’t like.

    This dog was attacked multiple times with a knife. Who knows why...

    This dog was attacked multiple times with a knife. Who knows why…

    This dog had his lower jaw totally crushed in an accident but is now already able to eat again thanks to the help of Frendicoes

    This dog had his lower jaw totally crushed in an accident but is now already able to eat again thanks to the help of Frendicoes

    Tammy is going to be cared for until she recovers and then they’ll look to find her a new life.  I’ll try and keep up with her story but if anyone wants to donate directly to the centre they are desperately in need of cash (or to me, marked ‘TAMMY’ and  I’ll make sure its passed on to her directly)

    Tammy with an old man hanging outside the rescue cetnre

    Tammy with an old man hanging outside the rescue cetnre

     

    A dog watches the scenery outside the rescue centre

    A dog watches the scenery outside the rescue centre

     

    As per usual you can buy any prints from this blog according to the sizes of the prints here, marking your donation TAMMY so I can make sure it gets to them.

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  • DAY 215: BEAR RESCUE ENDS MYSTERIOUSLY

    May 02 2013
    A chained monkey looks on as we enter the small community

    A chained monkey looks on as we enter the small community

    I’m in a strange situation.

    I’m walking into a small village accompanied by thirty policemen, many with guns.  We are looking for a single illegal bear cub. Our intelligence is rock solid, I’m told that Kartick has not failed on a mission like this for ten years but I fear we are about as conspicious as a burning meteor.

    What is the point of my cunning disguise? Will anyone appreciate my mascara?

    The police and Wildlife SOS team park the cars 100 metres from the entrance to the Muslim community.

    ‘Too dangerous to go closer’ says the officer with three stars on his shoulder. The informer seems mighty nervous.

    We all flow down the street and turn into an ever-narrowing alleyway, pushing onward ike a stream forcing new channels. Children poke heads out of doorways and then retreat to let us past.

    searching for the bear cub

    Police going into homes searching for the bear cub

     

    Monkeys

    I see monkey’s chained to walls, one seems blind and truly terrified.

    ‘Can we rescue these?’ I asked my guide/rescuer keenly while taking some photo. I am told to keep quiet and move on. The monkeys need help but first we must get the bear.

    An old, semi-blind, chained and very confused monkey.

    An old, semi-blind, chained and very confused monkey.

    bearraid-3

    bearraid-4

     

    Do not lose your man, Martin.

    We enter the main area of the community where families come out to see the commotion. It its a sunny day, no one in the community has guns, kids are around, I’m surrounded by police. Suddenly it all feels safe. What was I worried about?

    But my UK antennae are not tuned to Indian life. In London I can read undercurrents of aggression from a hundred metres. I learnt it at school when Louis Peterson threatened to beat me up for accidentally hitting him on the head when I threw a basketball and missed the hoop by about ten metres. He prowled the school and I watched his every twitch. But here it seems to me that all is calm. When a man brushes past me, knocking my camera I presume it is an accident. When it happens again I forgive him too easily. Thankfully in a few minutes I’ll be forced to get out of here before I find that on the third strike I might be out.

    Entering the main square. Things seem perfectly under control...

    Entering the main square. Things seem perfectly under control…

    Police start tapping on doors. No bear here. More doors are knocked. Then one is smashed down. People come to crowd around.

    Still no bear.

    I see two more monkeys tied by chains but this time their necks are held together by a few links. I go to take photos. The camera is a dangerous thing. When pushed to your eye its offers a safe and dark enclosure.

    I get lost photographing these two monkeys tied together by a tiny chain

    I get lost photographing these two monkeys tied together by a tiny chain

     

    My mind climbs into the camera and looks out of its neat window. Snap, snap, snap. When I put the camera down I see that my guide has gone. Do not lose your man, Kartick told me

    I call my man quicky. ‘Come, come!’ he says frantically. But I don’t know where he is. The police are dispersing in three different directions so I follow the ones with the biggest guns – as you do.

    ‘I’ll meet you by the monkey’ I say, which is about as useful as telling a farmer you’ll meet him by the sheep.

    ‘Come now, come NOW!’ he says more urgently.

    Has he found the bear?

    We go faster now. When I turn the corner I see my guide in the distance waving to me. I run over and he pushes me into the car and we race off down small streets which become ever wider as we reach safety.

    ‘Do we have the bear?’ I ask as I look back at the receding plume of dust behind the car.

    ‘No. We have to go. It was getting very dangerous.’

    ‘It was? ‘

     

    more monkeys tied by chains

    more monkeys tied by chains

    bearraid-8

    Undercurrents at work

    So we never saw the bear.

    Why?

    Only later did I find out the whole story.

    It is common knowledge in India that in order to survive most people in local communities set up relatonships with the lower ranking police officer – this is called a HAFDA which is a regular protection fee to make sure they don’t get in trouble. This was the first time in almost a decade that no bear was seized by Kartick’s team. There’s a distinct possibility that some undercurrents were at work here that allowed the community to be forewarned but we can’t be sure. Things certainly don’t stack up.

    Saving animals in India is not just physical and emotional. It is deeply political and divisive.

    The community we visited has a reputation for disorder and violence. Someone had found out that Kartick was involved and apparently people had threatened to kill him. He wasn’t present but things were escalating fast. I saw none of this in my ignorant haze but the police quickly recognized a tipping point on the near-horizon. We had to leave

    So we just left the bear there?

    Kartick later assured me that the bear would be saved soon and that the monkeys would as well. That just wasn’t our moment.

    To be honest, I am surprised sometimes that Kartick is still with us. I’ll let you know of any updates. But for now I am glad to be back and safe.

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  • DAY 210: I’VE OPENED UP A CAN OF BEARS

    Apr 27 2013
    An Indian sloth bear. Cuddly...but not to be messed with. But how can I help?

    An Indian sloth bear. How can I help these vast creatures?


    I’ve arrived at the bear sanctuary 
    run by Wildlife SOS in the middle of the Indian forest/jungle.

    ‘Coochi-coo’, I whisper through the electric fence.

    A fluffy bear races up to me, stands on his back legs and then lets out a vast roar.  I jump back. 

    These are the rescued dancing bears AKA ‘sloth bears’ – large, black and deceptively cute until they show their claws.

    How – I wonder – can I help a bear that is strong enough to rip my face off?

     

    The location is full of 'enrichments' , purpose built structures to keep the bears happy - or very comfortable when they sleep

    The location is full of ‘enrichments’ , purpose built structures to keep the bears happy – or very comfortable when they sleep

    IMG_7379

    yes, they look sweet but they are fiercely strong

    Monumental effort

    These impressive bears are the fruit of Kartick and Wildlife SOS’s monumental efforts.

    For many generations a small population of Indians have stolen cubs from their mothers and reared them to dance for money in the streets. Using a hot poker, a rope was threaded through their sensitive snout which then became a leash for life. A tug on it hurt so much the bears stood up ….and danced (I presume they did so as elegantly as the Spanish dogs who are hung from trees ‘play the piano’)

    Sloth bears suck up their food through long snouts. The scar on the snout from where the rope was passed through is still painfully clear.

    Sloth bears suck up their food through long snouts. The scar on the snout from where the rope was passed through is still painfully clear.

    Although the bears have a wonderful environment many still show the signs of previous abuse and anxiety, moving back and forth.

    Although the bears have a wonderful environment many still show the signs of previous abuse and anxiety, moving back and forth.

    Kartick’s solution to this problem drew criticism.

    Not only did he rescue ALL the bears from the streets and give them a home for life but he also turned the ‘poachers into protectors’ by giving jobs to the very people that owned the bears in the first place.

    Why?

    ‘People said we should punish these people rather than give them money. But they weren’t necessarily bad. They needed to make a living. You have to provide an alternative income to stop the problem coming back all over again.’

    It makes sense.

     

    The sanctuary extends out into the forest where bears can climb and socialise freely

    The sanctuary extends out into the forest where bears can climb and socialise freely

    Ahh....

    Ahh….

    An early evening play session

    An early evening play session

     

    How many bears can I help a few weeks?

    ‘And how long did it take to rescue the first bear?’ I ask Kartick.

    ‘Oh!’ he says, raising his eyes up ‘years! We had to work with the government and find a sanctuary and raise the money and then deal with…’

    My mind shrinks inwards. I’m here only for two weeks.

    A bear juggling a coconut cask

    A bear juggling a coconut cask

    4Y1A8416

    Hanging out

    Hanging out

     

    Kartick is reminding me of the same old problem. Helping is holistic. It is interconnected. It takes time. It is rarely an individual pursuit. You cannot arrive in India, see the Taj Mahal, save a bear and go home. Where do you put it? In your hand luggage?

     

    IMG_7231

    To keep the bears busy - and cool - staff hang ice blocks frozen with berries and honey just out of reach.

    To keep the bears busy – and cool – staff hang ice blocks frozen with berries and honey just out of reach.

    I spend the day photographing these magnificent creatures. It saddens me that some still swing their heads from side to side,  traumatised from years of abuse. But the sanctuary offers a rich environment with plenty of food, climbing and social interaction. It is the best place for their heavy hearts.

    The bears seem highly social, often playing vigorously - but normally only when the day is cooler

    The bears seem highly social, often playing vigorously – but normally only when the day is cooler

    hulllo?

    hulllo?

    Some bears are not so friendly.

    Some bears are not so friendly.

    Arun the vet - I asked if he'd ever been hurt by wildlife. No, he said, but his friend had. A sloth bear attacked him and ripped his backside clean off - Arun indicated this with a flat swipe behind him and a wry smile.

    Arun the vet – I asked if he’d ever been hurt by wildlife. No, he said, but his friend had. A sloth bear attacked him and ripped his backside clean off – Arun indicated this with a flat swipe behind him and a wry smile.

    A bear suffering from TB. His days are numbered but pain relief is administered regularly

    A bear suffering from TB. His days are numbered but pain relief is administered regularly

    4Y1A8758

    At the end of the day I collapse into the sheltered accommodation. The heat almost exactly matches my raised body temperature – 38 degrees – means that my sweating body and the muggy air blend into a delirious whole.

    Kartick calls We finally have the last jigsaw of intelligence on the bear cub that has been stolen and identified in a small muslim community.

    ‘Can you look ….more Indian?’ he asks.

    ‘Er…how do you mean?’

    ‘It’s imperative that you don’t stand out. It could be dangerous. Maybe dye your hair, your eyebrows. Get some thick glasses. Grow your moustache’

    I imagine myself as a 6’4″ Groucho Marx going on a raid. Trying to blend in

    ‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Of course I can’

    Maybe I shoudl cut my legs down?

    NEXT BLOG: I’m off to dress up to rescue a bear.  It feels vaguely racist. This is becoming surreal. And dangerous. Apparently there will be guns. Nice

    The drive back from the sanctuary at sunset

    The drive back from the sanctuary at sunset

    4Y1A8696

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  • DAY 205: HOW DANGEROUS IS IT TO RESCUE WILDLIFE IN INDIA?

    Apr 22 2013
    Driving into the Indian back country where leopards, elephants and bears roam. Bush and forest like this is becoming increasingly rare as human population and cities grwo

    Driving into the Indian back-country where leopards, elephants and bears roam. Bush-land and forest like this is becoming increasingly rare as human population and cities grow at a relentless pace.

    As we drive down the dusty track in the blistering heat I ask Kartick about the risks of his job. Just how dangerous is it?

    This is not so much journalistic interest as self preservation– I’ve offered to help with any rescue that comes up in the next few days. Gulp.

    ‘Yes, it can be fairly dangerous,’ he says, more calmly than I would like. ‘But life is short. We have very little time help these animals. I always say, no good deed goes unpunished. It’s worth the risk’

    I begin to wonder if my life will be short after this trip or what sort of punishment I will receive for my various good deeds.Probably nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

    Much of Kartick’s job entails intercepting traders who sell wildlife either alive or cut into bits for so-called ‘medicinal’ properties: tiger blood, bear penis, pangolin scales. Mostly it’s the Chinese that devour this but lets be inclusive and say we all like a bit of  good old trusty traditional medicine. Whenever I used to go out for a night I always found drinking tiger’s blood inevitably led to meeting attractive women. Equally I’ve found that every time I have a life threatening sickness I cure it by placing a dead pangolin on my head. Incredible, the power of these wildlife.

    A whole (or part) tiger can fetch a few thousand dollars in India - enough incentive to risk the often fairly small chance of prosecution

    A whole (or part) tiger can fetch a few thousand dollars in India – enough incentive to risk the often fairly small chance of prosecution

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

     

    This image, courtesy of FourPaws, is not from India but illustrates the risk to bears cubs in India that are stolen from their mothers for international trade. Bears typically spend a number of years with their mothers in the wild.

    A screaming bear cub is taken from its mother. This image, courtesy of FourPaws, is not from India but illustrates the risk to bears cubs over here that are stolen from their mothers for international trade. Bears typically spend a number of years with their mothers in the wild and if removed at too young an age suffer serious emotional damage

    Courtesy FourPaws

    Courtesy FourPaws

    If one thinks of saving wildlife as being all about running through jungles with a large net think again.Catching the traders can take weeks of preparation on the phone and in meetings and the juggling of sketchy intelligence, shady informers and a complex police system.

    And even after meticulous planning the raid can go totally wrong. One of Kartick’s employees was kidnapped whilst on a raid. ‘He disappeared and we thought he was dead. Then his wife got cryptic messages saying he was OK. Turns out that they broke his legs and left him somewhere remote. He was so mentally distraught that for months he couldn’t face returning home. He lived in the middle of nowhere to recover before he could face the world again’

    Again, Kartick is more calm about this than I would like.

    ‘I see’, I say.

    ‘But that’s rare’, he says.

    ‘Why do informers give you this information? Do they care that much about the animals?’

    ‘Not really. Often they want to settle an old score. Get someone else into trouble. They themselves may be part of the same shady world. I would make a fairly good criminal myself if I wanted to be. I have had to learn to think like they think to stay one step ahead.’

    I too know how criminals think. As a teenager, I once stole a Curly-Wurly bar from a corner shop. And when I felt decidedly guilty I managed to go back into the shop and un-steal it. I remember panicking about the punishment I might get if  caught re-stocking their shelves.

    Stolen goods.

    If you do steal, make sure to give it back.

    Snake bite

    But the risks of Kartick’s job don’t just come from humans. The animals are dangerous too. Naturally enough.

    ‘I was up most of the night.’ he told me ‘There was a rogue snake rescuer that got bitten by a snake last night- a cobra – and I got the call. It got him right in the stomach.  He’s now in a coma. He wasn’t one of our guys but we went to help out’

    Of the 274 indigenous snakes in India there are only four that are poisonous. The cobra is one of them

    Of the 274 indigenous snakes in India there are only four that are poisonous. The cobra is one of them

    The phone rings – again – and he has a brief conversation.

    ‘That was the sister of the snake bite guy . She seems pretty calm. Either she’s hard as nails or she wasn’t close to him’

    ‘Will the guy make it?’

    ‘Probably not. Not from a bite in the stomach.’

    ‘Really?’

    He looks at me with a half smile. ‘Occupational hazard’

    TOMORROW – I’m off to visit the bear sanctuary. In the meantime there are murmurings of a wildlife trade rescue I may be able help with involving a bear cub. But information is scant and – just in the nick of time – I seem to be coming down with an Indian illness.

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