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Safe haven: Nigel Otter with wife Ilona Arrikala and daughter Emma at their farm. Photo: K. Ananthan
Safe haven: Nigel Otter with wife Ilona Arrikala and daughter Emma at their farm. Photo: K. Ananthan

SUBHA J RAO

A three-acre farm near Masinagudi provides destitute animals a warm and caring home.

KAVERI was once the star of the Ooty Race Course. Then, she grew old. Her owners sold her to someone, who used up her last bit of energy and then turned her out. The transition from racing star to an abandoned animal was fraught with danger. From the comfort of a warm stable and regular meals, Kaveri had to forage the garbage dumps for food. She was often injured by passing vehicles and festering wounds added to her misery. Then, an animal care shelter called Hill View Farm Animal Refuge, run by India Project for Animals and Nature (IPAN) in Mavanhalla, near Masinagudi, Tamil Nadu, came to her rescue. The shelter is home to nearly 300 abandoned or ill-treated animals. Thanks to Nigel Otter, the Managing Trustee of IPAN, Kaveri's maggot-infested wounds are now giving way to her former glossy coat. More importantly, she can now look forward to spending the remaining days of her life in peace. Nigel says they only discovered that Kaveri was a racehorse when they saw a number freeze-branded on her hide. It was her former veterinarian who recognised her and told IPAN about her past.

Motley crowd

The sprawling three-acre farm is home to all kinds of creatures who have been savaged by humans and in some cases other animals. Donkeys that have been branded with hot iron, ponies who have been abused in circuses and more than 50 street dogs that have been hit by vehicles and attacked by wild animals. Included in this motley group are two geese, one of which has deformed feet; the other a wounded neck after being attacked by a dog at a nearby resort. There is also Bunty, a grape-loving Langur rescued at birth and Gia, a tiny bonnet macaque rescued from the Charminar Express. Both were raised on the bottle and a fuzzy brown teddy bear provided the warmth of a mother. Nigel still recalls the sleepless nights they had feeding the hungry young monkeys every hour. The babies of the farm are Chai, Capucchino and Coffee, three abandoned pups who have been recently taken in. The animal shelter was originally a cattle farm run by Nigel. In 1999-2000, it took in 60 animals following a request from an American animal lover. In 2002, IPAN was registered. Some ponies were rescued following instructions of animal activist Maneka Gandhi. It transpired that these ponies were being used as serum-extracting machines. She also arranged for IPAN to put up a shed for racehorses.

Paucity of funds

The monthly expenditure at the farm works out to Rs. 75,000, including fodder and salaries to a dedicated staff. Nigel admits he does not have that kind of money, but so far, it has magically materialised just when they needed it the most. The farm sells the manure generated by the animals. But that covers a very small portion of the expenses. IPAN also runs a free veterinary clinic in 12 villages nearby. Ilona Arrikala, a Finnish veterinarian and Nigel's wife, says they have plans to train people in the villages as para-veterinarians. Almost every home in Masinagudi raises poultry and IPAN vaccinates them against Ranikhet disease (Newcastle disease). So far, more than 2,000 birds in three villages have been inoculated. They also take in and treat injured wild animals from the neighbouring Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary and release them back into the forest whenever possible. While IPAN has many success stories to its credit, sometimes the treatment does not work despite the best of care and intentions. Then, the animals are put to sleep. Like a horse whose two legs were broken and a pregnant cow who suffered a fracture. She was delivered of her calf and then put down. "It is sheer agony when I have to stun an animal. But, death is better than having to live in misery," says Nigel. What angers Ilona most is the attitude of owners of racehorses and pets. "I've grown up believing that only the privileged can raise horses. It is very sad that these majestic creatures are left to fend for themselves in their twilight days," she says. The couple's two-year-old daughter Emma is following in her parents' footsteps. Her best friends are the numerous three-legged dogs that have made the IPAN farm their home and Gia. IPAN also rescues cattle headed for the slaughterhouses. Every Thursday and Friday, Nigel and his team encounter cattle being transported with their tails broken and chilli powder dusted into their eyes to keep them standing. While Ilona acknowledges that it is not possible to get people to stop eating meat, she says there should at least be some compassion in the way the animals are transported and killed. And, owners must take a stand, she feels. "Just because your animals are old and only just have a little time left, you cannot do this to them," she says.

Hard day's work

Ilona and other voluntary veterinarians treat the animals. Work starts in the farm at 6.30 a.m. and at times goes on till midnight. "When you love animals, time is not a factor," says Nigel. Nigel's latest patient is a cow that was attacked by a tiger. "When we treat such animals and return them to the owner, it prevents him from taking out his anger on the tiger," he reasons. A rudimentary operation theatre is in place at the farm and this is where Ilona and others treat the animals. The farm has grown in strength over the years, but they still need to do more. They have also applied to the Central Zoo authority to be recognised as a wildlife rescue centre. If you want to help, call 0423-2526158/ 2234214 or 94436-99376.

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