Gujarat’s Good Samaritans
By Anil Mulchandani
21st July 2012 12:03 PM
Wildlife photographer and monkey rescue specialist Manoj Thakkar of Vadodara got a distress call from a village about 20 minutes drive from the city, informing him that two langurs had fallen into an open well. He went to the spot and made a rope ladder which he lowered along the walls.
“While I have known langurs and even leopards to use such a rope ladder to scale a wall, one of the langurs was reticent to use the ladder. I then decided to let down a cage on a rope tied to the back of a tractor. The cage carried attractive food for the langur but this one did not take the bait,” Thakkar recalls, “I then decided to try something different; I asked the villagers to start the well’s motor pump to churn the water. Langurs do not like water and the churning water began to irritate this one so much that it jumped straight into the cage which was then hauled up by the tractor. Thus, knowledge of animal behaviour combined with engineering and mechanical ideas help me in animal rescue.”
Thakkar studied automobile engineering and started an auto workshop which has grown to become a successful Maruti service station in Vadodara. “But I wanted to use my engineering skills for a good cause. While pursuing my hobby of wildlife photography, I found that many operations were happening to rescue wildlife that had ventured into human habitation near Vadodara, or to trap and transfer to a suitable place leopards, crocodiles and langurs that were becoming a menace to the local population. I decided to design cages that were more effective for capturing animals while ensuring no injury to them,” says Thakkar.
Vadodara has many wildlife rescue specialists. The city of Vad (banyan tree in Gujarati) has a large number of old banyan and other trees that act as shelters for langurs, birds, reptiles and small mammals. The city is situated on two sides of the Vishwamitri, a river with a large population of crocodiles and turtles. To the east of the city are hills and forests that harbour leopard, sloth bear and other wildlife. Thus, there are many instances of wildlife species entering human habitation and getting trapped in cities or villages, leopards in cane fields, langurs becoming a problem in new residential localities.
For the forest department and voluntary wildlife rescue teams, Thakkar began to design cages. “Primates are specially hard to catch. The alpha male, the dominant member of the troop, usually takes its position at the high point of a tree. This is most likely to be the one biting people and leading the troop to fight with other monkeys entering their territory. Therefore, it was important that the cage should be light-weight to be moved around to where the male langur would descend when called or baited with fruits,” explains Thakkar, “typically, the cage has a trip mechanism which when pressed by an entering monkey causes the door to spring shut and trap the animal inside".
However, there were times when Thakkar saw the younger members of the troop jump into the cage to get at the fruits and cause the door to close, making the target male realise that it is a trap. Also, there were times when the door would fall on the tail or hurt the rear end of the langur. “To solve this problem, I created the option of having doors which could be regulated by a human operator through a mechanism, to fall only when the target langur was entirely inside. For langurs, leopards and other long-tailed animals, I make a slight adjustment on the door so that it does not completely slam shut but leaves enough room above the ground to keep the tail safe from injury. The trip mechanism for a leopard is at the last end of the cage. When the leopard sees the bait in the other partition, it will charge straight into the cage. The door will shut only when the leopard is right inside the cage.”
Since many animals do not like to walk on mesh, many of Thakkar’s traps have plates on the floor. Some of them have multiple partitions to be used when more than one monkey is to be caught. “If two male langurs are in one cage, they will fight viciously. The first langur gets trapped in the rear partition, then the next, and so forth,” says Thakkar. For example, Ahmedabad’s Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport often saw troops of monkeys disrupt flight operation. “There were four troops that found an ideal habitat of trees and garbage dumps to forage on,” says Thakkar, “the four alpha males led the troops to battle it out on the runway. We placed four cages with food in them at the airport. Luckily for us, the troop leaders fell for the bait and got trapped in the cages. Two were caught in the morning and two in the evening.” Thakkar has spent much time understanding langur behaviour and can imitate them. “People are surprised to see me going close to dominant male langurs that have bitten scores of people. I know the right body language that makes me acceptable to the langurs, they will even eat from my hand,” he says. Thakkar says that he is now being called to other states to demonstrate techniques. “Recently, a team from Gujarat went to Uttarakhand to conduct a training programme on such rescues,” says Thakkar.
Shakti Pathak of Surat says that his city too has a number of wildlife rescue volunteers. “Surat is a green area, beside the Tapti River and near the hills. Though it is an industrial city, reptilian fauna are commonly seen here. I am often called to catch snakes that have entered houses rather than allowing them to be killed.” Pathak says he has also specialised in crocodile rescue. “During floods, crocodiles move into human habitation from the Tapti,’’ he says, “and it is important to get them out from there.”
Gulamahmed Vora of Surendranagar says that it is important to not only catch injured animals but also to know how to treat them. “Saurashtra region is conducive for birds and I have been involved with rescue of injured birds in Junagadh, Surendranagar and other cities and towns of the region. The most challenging is dealing with birds of prey like falcons. We treat the injured birds and then release them.”
Ahmedabad-based restaurateur Rushad Ginwala, whose daughters are involved in voluntary philanthropic activities, is impressed with the organisation of wildlife rescue in Gujarat. “During the Uttrayana festival, when rooftops are filled with people flying kites using sharp-edged threads, birds get injured by the threads or get trapped in them. A number of voluntary organisations in Ahmedabad have ‘helpline’ numbers you can call round the year and special ones during such festivals. The volunteers rush to the spot for rescue operations with vet ambulances or first-aid facilities,” says Ginwala.
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