• UPDATE ON THE ARK IN INDIA – surprising news.

    Dec 18 2013

    Blog5_Keraladogs_9

    Avis Lyons, the inspirational founder of Animal Rescue Kerala, has decided to shut down her charity in India.

    This is hard to hear.

    A combination of her weakening health and the inept, inert local government that refuses to cooperate with her animal birth control programme means she can no longer do viable work.

    After  12 years of effort, she is left with a sanctuary full of rescued animals that she refuses to abandon but which she cannot sustain. She desperately needs our help to rehome the dogs she has under her care.

    dogkerala_5

    Please click here to see the animals in need of adoption

    Please write to tails@worldlywags.org if you think you might be able to help adopt a dog

    Please click here to donate money which I can pass on directly to her (mark as ‘FOR ARK’)

     

    Blog5_Keraladogs_8If there is one person over the last year that represents the fierce, mad, compassionate energy needed to work in the face of so much suffering it is Avis. Ageing, weakened by a fight with cancer, often alone in a country that was fairly alien to her,  she was driven by a selfless desire to help the misery suffered by so many dogs and other animals on the streets of India.

    blog5_keraladogs_16

    Avis wasn’t perfect. She took on too much, she could be impulsive and sometimes impatient – but she had, she still has, the most vibrant and precious spirit. I spent much of my year trying to understand what compassion really meant. Avis, I think, explained it to me. She leapt into the unknown, following her heart where her head must have warned her not to go and responded immediately and dearly to any being that needed it.

    Doing so comes with risk. Things don’t always work out. And so she finds herself in a painful position.

    blog5_keraladogs_11

    I had a conversation with Avis some time ago where she intimated, with some sadness, that she had not succeeded in her goals. She felt her ABC (animal birth control) programme was not going well, that too many dogs continued to suffer, that she was overwhelmed by legal and cultural resistance.

    What was she talking about?

    To struggle to do what is right, to fight against overwhelming cultures of cruelty and to respond to every creature with  compassion…what more can one do?

    It was almost a year ago to the very day I found myself in India. It was in the middle of the night and I watched Avis rescue a tiny puppy that was abandoned by its mother, turning circles by the side of the road as traffic passed within inches.

    Avis scooped it up and gave it a chance.

    Please now give Avis some help.

    4Y1A6917

    WHAT YOU CAN DO TO  HELP

     

     

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  • DAY 268: A GUEST PORTFOLIO FROM A GREAT DOG SUPPORTER

    Jun 20 2013
    A photo by Shane Green of a dog at the Tree of Life for Animals out in India.

    A photo by Shane Green of a dog at the Tree of Life for Animals out in India.

    One of the most heartwarming things about this year long journey is all of you.

    You’ve probably guessed by now that although I’m travelling a lot on the plane (and I’m off again in a few days – news to follow) this journey is more about visiting parts of my mind than it is other physical destinations. Places that I’ve neglected for too long: fears, doubts and contradictions in my understanding of our relationship to animals .

    And so it makes a huge difference to have you on the ride.

    An early supporter is a man called Shane Green who I have still not met but he clearly shares a huge love of dogs. He also happens to be a rather wonderful photographer. When I was out in India last it so happened he was too, visiting and taking pictures of dogs at a rescue centre in Rajasthan, India called Tree of Life for Animals who clearly do great work.

    Unfortunately we did not meet but he sent me these inspiring photos.Check out his slideshow here

    Check out Tree of life here: http://www.tolfa.org.uk/

    Helping animals – helping people. from shane green on Vimeo.

     

    Shane tells how TOFLA was started by an inspirational British Vet Nurse called Rachel Wright who saw how a small town in India was clearing the streets of dogs for a festival using inhumane methods that sometimes involved tying dogs to trees in the hot desert.

    Good work Shane. Wishing your dog Lulu a speedy recovery.

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    A photo by Shane Green of a dog at the Tree of Life for Animals out in India.

    A photo by Shane Green of a dog at the Tree of Life for Animals out in India.

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    SGGL0903

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

    Photo copyright Shane Green

     

     

     

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  • DAY 232: FINAL DAY IN INDIA…NOW HEADING BACK TO HELP THE BADGERS

    May 20 2013
    The wild tokay gecko that was being fattened up for sale on the illegal market that I managed to release into the wild.

    The wild tokay gecko that was being fattened up for sale on the illegal market that I managed to release into the wild.

    Damn.

     

    There’s so much I can’t tell you. 

    I can’t tell you about my trip to the far corner of India, I can’t tell you about trying to smuggle myself illegally over the border into Myanmar, I can’t tell you about the stolen bear that I found, I can’t tell you about the very rare gecko that I released into the deep forest (an endangered specimen no less) and I can’t tell you about getting apprehended by separatists….

    I like to think I’m a wanted international agent…but the truth is that I’ve turned over the location of a trapped wild animal to the authorities who need to carry out a suprise raid. Until that goes ahead nothing can be leaked.

    Needless to say you assume I’m making it up. Which of course I may be. But I have the mascara to prove it.  And furthermore I have a very special watch that I used to get secret photos.

    The watch with hidden camera and the button-camera that was used to uncover the trapped animal...that I can't talk about

    The watch with hidden camera and the button-camera that was used to uncover the trapped animal…that I can’t talk about

    The wonderful family I stayed with in Manipur near the border of Myanmar (Burma) that I can't tell you about.

    The wonderful family I stayed with in Manipur near the border of Myanmar (Burma) that I can’t tell you about.

    JUST IN CASE YOU ARE INTERESTED, INSTRUCTIONS FOR AN INDIAN SECRET CAMERA WATCH:

    ” This product is simple, small and exquisite, beautiful and practical, is home security, education, essential areas of life, utility, well all the customers.

    Enter the default camera, sound recording standby mode, after the boot of any state. Save the file and shutdown :long earthquake the machine twice 

    Changing the date: According to the computer configuration or system differences, identify the time of disk is slightly different, please be patient…best not to Jinxing the camera.”

    The endangered wild tokay Gecko.

    The endangered wild tokay Gecko.

    The road to the border where we got apprehended

    The road to the border where we got apprehended

     

    My taxi driver wants my monkey fruit in the correct order.

    For the last few days I’ve been driving around India with a Sikh taxi driver who has been extremely kind and extremely enthusiatic about being a Sikh. Everyday he tells me about his turban and Sikh traditions , which is very interesting. In return I have been telling him about saving animals which he finds equally interesting. Turban – monkey – beard – dog. Rather weirdly he’s also been telling me about his favourite fruit and putting them in order of preference…and quite often getting it wrong

    ‘Mango is number one fruit!’ he calls out whilst swerving through traffic. Then a few moments later:  ‘No – mistake.  Kiwi is number one!’ I wonder how one can get one’s favourite fruit wrong.

    Finally after three days of driving he asked me if I actually liked monkeys.

    ‘Of course I do. Very much’

    ‘Which is number one? Monkey or dog?’

    ‘They are both number one’

    ‘Will you take some home? Monkeys?’

    ‘It might be hard’

    ‘Just go to parliament. They have many monkeys there’ I laughed at his sly political joke. He didn’t smile.  ‘No really, they will give you eight monkeys. You take them home because no one wants them here’

    ‘But I can’t take them on the plane just like that.’

    ‘You can get money by making them dance. People want photos’

    Oh no, I thought. There’s clearly so much work to do out there. Even this lovely man wants me to make monkeys dance.

    But then he said something else: ‘We love monkeys. They are one of our gods’

    And then I realised: nowhere is man’s kaleidoscopic view of animals more colourful – and confusing – than it is in India. They swerve to avoid cattle in the street and then  happily leave a dog dying in the dust. Hinduism, one of the most prevalent religions in India, is rich with its array of animal gods that demand worship and yet on an everyday level there is so much animal suffering ignored on the street.

    Wildlife SOS are doing great work tackling these complex but vital issues in this wild and colourful land – and at the helm is a charasmatic, unpredictable, energetic and surprising invidual in Kartic.

    Support him and the team here. If and when this animal is released I can fill you in on some more adventures.

     

    Back home to save badgers

    I am returning to the UK to work on the crucial issue of the upcoming badger cull – proposed to start JUNE the 1st.  More info to follow

     

    NEXT BLOG: I DRESS UP AS A BADGER AND DIE ON THE LONDON UNDERGROUND IN PROTEST.

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  • DAY 219: JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I COULD RELAX… LOST PUPPY IN DELHI FOLLOWS ME

    May 05 2013

     

    I’m now back in Delhi and just when I thought I could relax this puppy would NOT leave me alone.

    I’ve got him into a sanctuary after I saw he had a small but nasty cut on his thigh. He should find a new home. This one for all you dog lovers out there. I just can’t leave them alone…

    Lost delhi puppy-2

     

    Lost delhi puppy

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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 214: BEAR CUB RESCUE (part 1)

    May 01 2013
    Arriving in the village where the bear-cub was reportedly being kept illegally.

    Arriving in the village where the bear-cub was reportedly being kept illegally.

    Phew, I made it.

    But the outcome was not as I had expected. We raided a community that got very heated and the plan had to change quickly…

    …and what of the bear?

    At 4:30am I woke up to a thunderstorm.

    This is not the ideal start to one’s first day of bear-rescuing. It would only have been made worse if the grim-reaper had tickled his fingers on my window. The fierce rain came through the hot darkness. I re-applied my mascara, sorry, I mean bear-rescue disguise, and got ready to meet my pick-up man at 5am.

    An unmarked vehicle arrived some 45 minutes late with a driver who spoke little English. I had been told by Kartick not to engage in conversation. The driver obliged by not speaking a word back and we set off in silence into the sunrise.

    During the journey we picked up three more people, one of whom seemed aggressive and was unwilling to sit in the back. I assumed he was the informer to the Muslim community. He was agitated and often broke out into protest with my driver  about something I could not understand. I stared out of the window the whole way without saying a word

     

    Charging into the small Muslim community with an army of police. Just for one baby bear

    Charging into the small Muslim community with an army of police. Just for one baby bear

     

    Meeting the undercover cops

    We arrived at the pre-arranged location to meet the plain-clothed cops. Their portly bellies and moustache-stroking nonchalance didn’t fill me with confidence -but what did I know?

    By now Kartick was regularly texting me. He seemed nervous that I was alright. Which made me nervous.

    Have they got weapons? R there women with them?

    I presumed women would be used to soften any possible violent tendencies

    Neither –  I wrote back

    How many cops?

    Six

    Is that all? – he wrote.

    Should I go if they have no weapons?

    They probably have concealed weapons 

    I could see nothing of the sort in their tight fitting trousers and t-shirts stretched over their full frames.

    Then, just when I was considering bailing on the whole thing, we drove the car to another station and were joined by more police. First five more, then ten, then twenty. All of them were dressed in uniform and most were carrying rifles, pistols, one with an AK-47.

    Jesus. I wasn’t sure if I should feel relieved or terrified. Why so many cops for a bear cub? And why did I need to wear mascara and a bad disguise? With this much police protection I could have been Salman Rushdie reading the Satanic verses aloud and they wouldn’t have been able to touch me.

    But these police were not for me. Someone thought this raid demanded it.

    Local kids look on concerned. I wondered at the point of my finely applied mascara intended for blending in when I was surrounded by 30 cops

    Taken from my hip. Local kids look on concerned. I wondered at the point of my finely applied mascara intended for blending in when I was surrounded by 30 cops

    Martin, do not lose your man – another text.

    Kartick had made very clear that under no circumstances should I stray from the side of my driver – who was apparently an expert in these raids . I promised I would stick by him closely.

    We set off for the small village compound where we new the bear cub was being kept. There was no way in hell this number of police would not arouse suspicion – or prepare – the people who we were coming for.

    Something felt very wrong.

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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 207: A SHOCKING READ ON FLIGHT TO JUNGLE GIVES ME MOTIVATION

    Apr 24 2013
    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India

    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India. Courtesy of the BBC.

    I’m on a plane to Bangalore to visit Kartick’s rescued bears.

    His sanctuary is some way into the jungle beyond the city. I like the idea of a jungle being just outside the city. It makes a change from Surrey.

    I’m flicking through a book that he gave me: ‘Handbook on Wildlife Law enforcement in India’.

    It is not something I’d buy for a beach trip but it makes uncomfortable reading.

    This is partly because I’m in a really small seat.

    This is ‘Spice Air’ (India’s answer to Ryan Air but with less room and more chilli in the food) and as the person in front leans back my knees fold towards my chest. I’m feeling terrible anyway –a cold from the UK along with all this insipid heat along with unmarked street food from the night before leads to some strange energy moving through my body.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    But it’s uncomfortable reading for two other reasons

    Firstly, for just how NASTY the illegal wild life trade is. And secondly, for making me realise I knew next to NOTHING about it.

    The illegal trade in wildlife is the third largest illegal trade in the world after drugs and arms. Estimates value the annual haul at $20 billion USD or even more. That’s a lot of money and a load of death. How exactly did a BBC-news-skimming liberal like myself know so little?

    Perhaps because the trade is fairly complex. Perhaps because the effects are not as vividly felt as bombs or as newsworthy as heroin.

    But the effects are just as deadly.

    The wildlife trade is not only the story of ivory and tiger skin. It is the story of peacocks being killed for their feathers, of owls being sold for witchcraft, of sharks being destroyed for their fins, of tigers being embalmed for wine, of baboons being slaughtered for bushmeat, of bears being sold for the ‘medicinal’ quality of their penises. It is a collection of stories that make up one terrible tale of animals being abused for man’s superficial ends: ornamentation, taste and (so-called) health.

    Man smuggles live eggs

    Man smuggles live bird eggs

    Depressing read

    The list of ways in which animals are killed – guns, pits, electric wires, nets, poison, leg traps, snares, is matched only by the list of animals that are killed – tigers, bears, elephants, rhinos, peacocks, leopards….and on and on.

    And it’s all getting so much worse.

     

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    With increasing globalization (poachers can coordinate by phone and sell online) and better technology (easier international travel, better killing techniques) and relatively weak punishments for those that are caught (trading in narcotics or arms leads to much heavier penalities), more and more organized criminals are turning to the joys of stuffing pangolin scales down their knickers.

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market - it all goes abroad

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market – it all goes abroad

    Conservation vs welfare

    Many people argue against the wildlife trade on conservation grounds. I don’t see it that way. Although the pangolin itself is traded so ruthlessly that it is fast on the way to extinction I care more about the suffering of the individual. The pain of the pangolin forced into a plastic bag, transported inhumanely, killed brutally is what should upset us most. That pain multiplied many thousands of times over is more concerning than a statistic or downward graph in a newspaper of the whole species.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Now I understand why Kartick dedicates his life to busting the criminal networks involved in wildlife crime. Although India doesn’t consume wildlife like China does, this countries need for money along with its criminal and corrupt underclass means that wildlife here are suffering grotesque levels of misery.

    From BBC

    From BBC. My camera is better than this.

    Maybe I should man-up and join Kartick on a rescue after all. He keeps whispering to me that a bear cub will need rescuing in a few days. ‘when we have all the intel together’.

    I’m ready.

    Except I think I have bronchitis.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    NEXT BLOG: MEETING HUNDREDS OF RESCUED BEARS. BUT HOW AM I MEANT TO HELP?

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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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  • DAY 203: THOSE WHO RESCUE BEARS ARE VERY TIRED INDEED

    Apr 19 2013
    Kartick in a  photo NOT taken by me - courtesy Wildlife SOS

    Kartick in a photo NOT taken by me – courtesy Wildlife SOS

    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.

    Dancing bears in the streets of India - a cruel trade that Wildlife SOS has helped to eradicate

    Dancing bears in the streets of India – a cruel trade that Wildlife SOS has helped to eradicate

    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.

     

    Bears have a rope fed through their nose from a young age and are never released.

    Bears have a rope fed through their nose from a young age and are never released.

    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.

     

    Geeta - the co-founder of Wildlife SOS - courtesy Wildlife SOS

    Geeta – the co-founder of Wildlife SOS – courtesy Wildlife SOS

    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’

    Wildlife SOS works extends beyond bears to all wild creatures that suffer at the hands of man in India

    Wildlife SOS works extends beyond bears to all wild creatures that suffer at the hands of man in India

    WSOS-monkey

    This little guy lost his arms after touching an electricity pylon. Sometimes man’s curel affect on animals is neither direct or deliberate but still devastating. Wildlife SOS deals with this too.

    WSOS-monkey-3

    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.

    The formidable Trevor Weeks of WRAS. While his work is every bit as vital as Kartick's its played out on a very different field

    The formidable Trevor Weeks of WRAS. While his work is every bit as vital as Kartick’s its played out on a very different field

    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?

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