• 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 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

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    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

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    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

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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 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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