Cool Buddies

The grey bearded shady bird [by Sharada]

Posted in Uncategorized by Ratheesh & Sharada on July 21, 2013

Wake up in the morning to the sound of hungry baby birds who are waiting for their surrogate mother to bring them food, preparing plates of food meticulously for each inmate knowing their nutritional needs and likings, disinfect and clean all the cages thoroughly to ensure there is no contamination, start the treatment and medication for each animal as per schedules and charts, in between rush to rescue an injured snake and in the process educate the people about snakes, reinforce the walls to ensure the cages are safe during rain, clean up some weeds to help local species grow better, finally relax next to the pond constructed stone by stone with own hands listening to the sound of frogs and the satisfaction of having restored a ecosystem. All in a day’s work for Saleem, who has been tirelessly working towards rehabilitating displaced and injured animals in and around Bangalore. For a man who has dedicated everything he has towards rehabilitation and securing a better future for the various species, life outside of rehab is unfamiliar. His love for animals is just an extension of a deep rooted passion towards life itself – all things living with their flaws and irregularities included.

In recent times, as the entire humanity is progressing towards its own downfall, conservation has become a high profile term, with the nature crusaders turned into glorified celebrities. The entire world seems to have been fixated on the color-of-the-hour “Green” and every corporate scurrying to get their share of green-time in the process. In a time when nature “researchers” or “conservationists” are making best use of their new found fame, a handful of them still go about their duties silently, as they have been doing over the years and will continue to do so till they have a hold of their senses. Saleem is undoubtedly one such wonderful human being who consciously and tactfully avoids any remote chance of getting into limelight. But to anyone who has got the chance to meet him, he comes across as a warm, loving human being with a generous dose of quick wit and humor. It might be his caring heart or his adventurous streak or his enormous repertoire of knowledge and experience he carries about animals or his readiness to provide a friendly advice anytime – it is hard to say exactly why someone would get attracted to Saleem, but he has managed to touch the lives of everyone he has met in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

His work

 Rehabilitation has an 80-20 chance for success, it is notorious for its highly inefficient turnarounds in terms of occupation. It involves a deep understanding of the species, its natural behavior and surroundings, its adaptation to artificial circumstances and finally its chances of survival after release. Nurturing a baby bird, for instance, involves round the clock feeding it nutritional mix through syringes, keeping them dry and warm with the aid of heating pads, ensuring that they do not contract any infection or get injured in the artificial nests, knowing their changes in food habits and modifying the feeding frequency and type of food as they grow up and ensuring that all this is done with utmost care not to imprint them. There is almost zero margin for errors, a small mistake might cost a precious life. It requires immense patience to go through the routine activities over days at length. In the end, to recognize their readiness to fly and return to their natural surrounding, to make sure that they are fully equipped to face the outside, harsh world without the safety net of cozy beds and caring mothers. In many cases, this results in a happy ending where the bird confidently soars and returns to its habitat, this is when a rehabilitator is in his most elated state of happiness. But in some cases, it all comes crashing down when the bird fails to fly away and just trots back to its basket or might get killed in the first day of its freedom itself. It is emotionally a highly stressful journey for the rehabilitator to go through all the highs and lows during this process. In case of an injured animal which requires medical attention, it is extremely important to understand its problem, diagnose it accurately and deliver the right treatment. And in case of grave injuries, it is important to take a call on the animal – the most difficult part – to play “God”. This is the part that separates the real, passionate animal lovers from the show off, cuddly types. It takes immense guts and mental strength to decide whether the animal will continue to lead a normal, good quality life after the recovery or would end up being easy food for its predators. Because, nature is not kind. Only the fittest survive, this is the unwritten law of nature. To release an animal that is incapable of surviving is worse than euthanizing it; however harsh that might sound, it is not far from truth.

Saleem has lived this tough life for years. He has spent sleepless nights looking over baby animals to ensure they are not bitten by ants. He has sat for hours together crouching over feeding small squirrels and lorises and almost broken his back in the process. He has experienced near-death situations many times having been accidently bitten by venomous cobras while handling them. He has sat in rain, protecting the animals and keeping them warm. He can be completely stressed out after a day’s work and yet would not show any signs of slack while handling another animal. He could be collapsing due to tiredness, sometimes working through day and night and yet gets excited when he hears that an injured bird has started to eat normally. He is always on time when it comes to attending to the animals and never misses the food and medicine schedules. There are times when he realizes that he is unable to save an animal and it is getting closer to losing it, but he never gives up, never misses a chance to try all possible ways to save it. This kind of life requires complete dedication, this means, there is no life outside rehab. There is no time for family, friends, socializing, sometimes there is no time for even basic necessities like eating or sleep. Saleem has scarified everything just for this one purpose, to save the lives of animals.

He could have chosen to live in forests and work on a studying habitat of some species or conserving large animals like tiger or elephants that would procure huge grants and bring recognition. But what he chose was something that is so rare that you can count such rehabilitators with the fingers in one hand – he chose urban rehabilitation. In the hierarchy of conservationists, if there is one such, this can be counted on one of the lower most rungs, not because it is less important, more so because it is less appealing or may I say less glamorous. It is also most painful because you know that that animals that you are working with are the result of human greed in the name of “development”, it is our own making. This means, he had to live with the fact that he was born and brought up in a city which is built at the cost of thousands of displaced creatures and the only way to save them is to continue to live in the city and rehabilitate them. It is a very complex cycle where the animals that live in cities, in the small holes of buildings, in the few trees that are still surviving, in the highly polluted lakes have evolved to live in the proximity of human beings and cannot be relocated elsewhere. The city is their home too, but it is not a very safe home for them, if its not predators that would kill or injure them, it is the high speeding vehicles, the high rise glass buildings or the huge earth turning JCBs that are their nemesis.

 Saleem, the artist

Be it photography, illustrations or sketches, Saleem’s creativity flows in every task he undertakes. This is not limited to arts, you can see his intricate designs even in the cages that he builds for the birds and the delicate job he does with the sutures during surgery. He is a born artist and has a keen eye to recognize art in all forms in almost anything. He has been a top notch photographer almost all his life, shooting a wide range of subjects which of course includes his most passionate ones – that of animals, insects, birds and nature. He spends his free time sketching illustrations of wildlife and nature that bring forth the minutest of details. His deep understanding of the anatomy of the animals, plants are evident in his sketches, he ensures that all his drawings are as close as possible to real life. The drawings tell a story, it is amusing to see how people can spend several minutes lost in amazement staring at Saleem’s illustration of a withered leaf; something that they would not even care to look at in its real form if they happened to find in their garden.

Saleem’s life has always been an inspiration to many who have known him and understood his philosophy. For others, who happened to only see only a single dimension of him, without understanding his other sides have always returned disappointed. For, Saleem is a philosopher, a dreamer, a poet, a musician, an animal lover, an artist, a rehabilitator and above all, a loving human being who has nothing but infinite love even for the his greatest foes. It is interesting to see how much he has squeezed in his life, having given the same time as all others around. It is rare that you come across people who have always lived their life to the fullest, spent most of their time living on the edge. It is hard to find people who have filled their lives with so much passion and an inner fire that it has engulfed and burned them inside out and yet they do not wither and dry, the fire only makes them burn brighter and in turn ignite other lives around.

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