In the raging sweep of development that has claimed trees and lakes and clean air in the city, one section of collateral damage has gone unacknowledged. A dazzling array of urban wildlife — squirrels, owls, bats, lorises and jackals — is slowly but inexorably being pushed into the abyss of extermination.
As a wildlife rehabilitator for the past two decades, it often occurs to me that my interventions to save animals and birds is an exercise in futility. But despite the frequent temptation to give up on these hapless creatures, my demand for a centre that is dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation is unrelenting.
Bangalore boasts of more than one wildlife rehabilitation centre, but the fact remains that these units are mainly focussed on, and are deeply involved with, domestic animal welfare issues. Dogs, cats and cattle. They are unable to concentrate resources and time for the specialised, and physically and emotionally demanding, process of rescue, rehabilitation and eventual repatriation of injured, orphaned or displaced wildlife.
For instance, consider the process of returning an orphaned three-lined palm squirrel to the wild. From the time of rescue, these tiny mammals need milk supplements that have to be imported and carefully prepared. It needs warmth, the animal has to be groomed and cleaned, and fed every three to four hours. Diarrhoea and stomach bloat, aspiration pneumonia and dermatitis plague squirrels in care and these have to be prevented.
Once the animal has reached the stage of weaning, one has to make sure it is not imprinted by the human caregiver so that they can make their transition to the wild. The final stage would be to place the squirrels into an outdoor cage, and over weeks allow them to run free during the day and shut them in at night. By the time the release is completed other orphaned mammals and birds have taken their place in an endless treadmill exercise that has no end in sight.
Squirrels are one of the easier species to work with. The process gets more difficult with jackals, the slender loris, bats, civet cats and pangolins, injured and confiscated snakes, turtles and lizards, and the plethora of injured wild birds, each with its own peculiar requirements in terms of food and shelter.
Despite the pressure and bouts of feeling helpless, rehabilitators the world over try desperately to avoid burn-out and are buoyed by the elation and joy of setting an animal or bird free. The feeling is just too hard to express. Your determination to throw in the towel dissolves when you see the steady southward flight of a multi-hued Indian Pitta recovered from a collision with a high-rise building in its migration path.
Playing god in this bizarre world of our own making is not really an egotistical affirmation of one's self. Each wild animal release is merely a melancholic ritual, a prayer that someday humans, the dominant species on earth, has the grace and strength to change its self-destructive path of ‘development'.
(Saleem Hameed is a wildlife rehabilitator, formerly with the Bannerghatta Rehabilitation Centre. He is currently working with the BBMP forest cell.)