• 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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  • DAY 200: BACK IN INDIA- BUT THIS TIME TO HELP WILDLIFE

    Apr 16 2013
    Its both wonderful and terrifying to be back in India. Saw this man carrying a windscreen on back of scooter, unusually they were wearing helmets.

    It is both wonderful and terrifying to be back in India. Today I saw this man carrying a windscreen on the back of a scooter – unusually he was wearing a helmet and driving the correct way down the road, most are not so safety conscious.

    I have arrived in Delhi to help wildlife. 

    I find my bag is missing after having spent a sleepless flight that involved repetitive vomiting somewhere over the Middle East. 

    I stumble out into the 37C heat in my UK winter jeans – and only pair of underpants –  to get a taxi that drives straight into a motorbike and then later gets a ticket for speeding. When I arrive at my hotel I am too tired to argue with the driver when he demands  large tip. Watch out tigers, here comes Martin.

    So…India again.

    What can a man from Hackney do to help the bears when he has a blog and only one pair of pants?

    How will he save the tigers and elephants and monkeys of India with a bit of good-will and a nice camera that has no batteries?

    Questions that not just you but I am asking.

    Indian Bengal Tiger

    Indian Bengal Tiger

    India – so wonderful but so awful….so good to be back.

    As I slump into bed ,the mobile phone that I have picked up at the airport flashes with a ‘RAPE – EMERGENCY’ number that i can call if I need to. Nice to be welcomed like this. It’s only a few weeks since the scandal broke in Delhi of the girl who was attacked by a gang of men. Perhaps all phones have this now. But, India, I feel, is a little like its traffic – changing and flowing at a wild pace but with a threat of a crash at any moment.

    The situation with wildlife is not much different.

    This subcontinent has the best and worst of wildlife. Which is why I am here to turn my hand at helping.

    On the one hand, the expansive forests and wild shrub lands contain he  glorious riches of the Bengal tiger, the indian elephant,the sublime leopard, the unsung but wonderful pangolin, the various monkeys, the 274 snakes and so, so much more. On the other hand there is the looming threat of species’ extinction created by an ever growing human population swelling outwards at a frightening pace as well as a burgeoning illegal wildlife trade that tests the limits of human’s cruelty to animals.

    I’ll get on to both issues in more detail later on.

     

    Wildlife SOS

    ‘Wildlife in the wild doesn’t need helping’ says Kartick Satyanarayan, the c0-founder and day-to-day manager of Wildlife SOS with whom I will be working during my stay (and which I’ll also tell you more about later) ‘Wildlife only needs helping when it comes into contact with man’.

    Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS, India with a rescued bear cub. Courtesty Wildlife SOS

    Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS, India with a rescued bear cub. Courtesty Wildlife SOS

    That old chestnut. I’m getting the hang of this game. When you want to help animals you got to stop the humans screwing up. But how can I? And what is Kartick doing to help the animals? How bad is it in India really? And will I get another pair of underpants? Frankly, the first time I see a tiger I’ll probably crap myself.

    TOMORROW – the wild extremes of the illegal wildlife trade and the work of Wildlife SOS. Showing the way forward. Perhaps I can do something with them.

     

     

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