June 5 was Envir-onment Day. The media was green with campaigns. My mind raced back to the “cockatoo scholar” from Jaipur who has gorgeous birds caged on his terrace and pretty cockatoos who hop onto his shoulder whenever he beckons them. These pretty creatures ought to be hopping on trees, not his shoulder, I thought, when I visited his home, where he exhibited his feathery collection for my benefit ! Whenever I raise the issue of animals and environment with Muslims, they look at me as if I am talking nonsense.
In this regard, it was truly heartening to recently meet Sumanth, a 22-year old Engineering student from Bangalore, who since the age of 12 has been slogging to save the trees, birds, animals and wildlife. “I used to walk around Russell Market and see all these birds caged and treated roughly. My passion for these creatures led me to work with different animal welfare groups. In the process, I met Jaishankar (28) and Suresh Kumar (35). It is our love for wildlife that motivated us to work for this cause across Karnataka. So we set up Vanamitra (friend of the jungle) in 2009 as an NGO to focus on the same,' Sumnath tells me. ' We wanted to create an organization that focuses on wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in the state because we found that nobody was interested in pursuing it.”
Jaishankar, Sumanth Madhav and Suresh Kumar focus on three areas: rescuing wild animals or birds, spreading awareness among villagers and training forest guards for rescue efforts.
Superstitions have as much share in wildlife deterioration as illegal trade and poaching. Amidst oft-heard cases of elephants, tigers and leopards that are poached for 'valuable' body parts are lesser known incidents. Red Boa snakes that are supposed to bring wealth are captured and force-fed mercury as they are priced by weight. Monitor lizards are tortured for their blood, which is considered an aphrodisiac. Karnataka's state animal, the shy Slender Loris, isn't spared either – it is used as a living equivalent of dolls in black magic rituals.
The needs of a growing city cause man-nature conflicts, which, when paired with ignorance, lead to ever more danger for the environment. A case in point is an incident of a “dinosaur-like” creature (as put forth by the Devanahalli resident who informed Vanamitra) that had entered a house. The team on arrival found a Pangolin (an anteater that lacks teeth!) curled up and a policeman all set to shoot the poor animal. Pangolins lived in large numbers in Devanahalli before the development that followed the new airport construction.
The Vanamitra team is trained in rescue efforts. The NGO is authorized by the Karnataka government and is part of the wildlife rescue wing of the Forest Department. Vanamitra also educates those people without whom conservation is just not possible—the village forest communities. Villagers who would otherwise aid poaching are sensitised to the role of the ecosystem and trained for alternative employment.
Sumanth also relates the horrific details of how cute squirrels are captured on a torturous glue trap allured by nuts. During their struggle to free themselves, they die. Their tails are then cut to make brushes! How cruel man can get!
Sumanth also narrates how zoos today in India have turned into entertainment centres where people walk around with packets of chips and cola and tease the animals. “As it is, it hurts to see animals caged, and, on top of it, zoos today are no longer places where people are sensitized towards the feelings of animals, their emotions and their life. Corporate houses do so much for human causes, but nothing for the environment or wildlife. We should know that we begin our day with Nature as we sip our coffee in steel cups which comes from nature and end our day switching off lights. Why don't we respect nature? If we continue tampering with the environment, nature will take her revenge, ” says Sumanth.
Sumanth and his two friends say that they cannot imagine sitting in front of a computer and working in air-conditioned offices. Their whole life is now for wildlife conservation. “I set out from my house in the morning, I get many calls from people who have seen a snake. I tell them not to kill it. I go with my friends and rescue it out. Today, the campaign for saving the tiger is popular, but this is not enough, and there are other wild creatures too which need to be saved,” he says.
Vanamitra does not charge for its work and functions on the founders' money, relying on donations from wildlife enthusiasts.
In this concrete jungle packed with malls and materialism, Sumanth, Jaishankar and Suresh come as rays of hope whose efforts towards wildlife conservation need to be supported. Is my friend, the “cockatoo scholar” listening?
(For more details, contact email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sumanth: 9980872975, 9590331323. Website: www.vanamitra.org)