A conversation with Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director of ARRC and the team.
Podcast Episode #27 Part 1. Show notes (Edited).
Lalitha Krishnan: Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, part 1, Episode 27 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to the natural world.
We may all have at some point in our lives called an animal rescue centre. But how many of us know you know what goes after the animals is picked up? How many people does it take to look after an injured animal? What treatments are given? What is it fed? Or not fed? How long does it take to heal? What precautions are taken to speed up its recovery and how and where is it released? I’m speaking with the Executive Director of Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation centre ARRC, Jayanthi Kalam and the ARRC team in Bangalore to find out makes a wildlife rescue centre a professionally run enterprise
Jayanthi has served as a board member of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC). She holds a Master’s in Business Administration from NYU. She worked in various MNCs in the U.S. and quit after 12 years to pursue her interests in wildlife conservation.
Jayanthi, thank you so much for joining me on Heart of Conservation. Before we start with your relationship with the wild, I’d like to ask you about human behaviour? We, animal lovers, are a very enthusiastic bunch. The first thing we do, when we pick up an injured animal is to try to feed it food and water. Is that an OK thing to do? What is the right way to handle an animal before we even contact you?
Jayanthi Kallam: That’s a really great question because this happens quite often. Like, people want to help animals but the very first they want to do is feed the animal. To give you an analogy, if you have a human that was in a road accident you’re not going to try and feed him something right? You’ll take him to a hospital first or you’ll call an ambulance. The same thing applies to wild animals also, particularly in places where there are wildlife centres and wildlife rehabilitation centres. The best way to deal with a wild animal when you find one is to call the rehabilitation centre and take their guidance. Because there are many nuances in this. Sometimes, an animal does not need rescue at all. Sometimes it has to be kept in a certain way before the rescue team arrives. Or, maybe the most important thing to do in certain cases would be just doing crowd control so no one disturbs the animal. So, it varies based upon the situation, that’s why it’s important to call the rescue centre for guidance first before acting. Because, feeding an animal or giving water, like in the case of birds… if you just pour water down the throat, it can enter the lungs directly. Because their airway system is different from mammal airway system. Or if you try and feed an animal without knowing what species it is or what is the right diet and how much to feed and is it even in a condition to eat at that point? You can do more harm than good. So, while wanting to help is a great thing and we do find a lot of people in Bangalore who want to help the animals, we always tell people to learn the right way or call us first and take our guidance and then approach the animal accordingly.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s great. There are several animal rescue centres in Bangalore but it is so remarkable that, and correct me if I am wrong, you’re one of only two Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators (CWR) in India. And you were the first. So, congratulations on this CWR certification from the International Rehabilitation Council. So, how did this come to be? Tell us this story.
Jayanthi there are over several rescue centres in Bangalore but it’s so remarkable that you are one of only two Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators (CWR) in India. And you’re the first. Congratulations on the CWR Certification from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. How did this come to be? Tell us this story.
Jayanthi Kallam: My journey into wildlife rehabilitation started in the U.S. Until 2012, I was just working my cooperate job. I didn’t know much about wildlife rehabilitation but when I started looking into something to do with conservation, something to do with social causes, wildlife rehabilitation happened to be one of the things I was interested in. And, when I wanted to get into it, there are not many formal courses one can take to become a good wildlife rehabilitator. There may be related coursed one can take but Wildlife Rehabilitation as a course is not offered, was not offered at that time. So the way I learnt wildlife rehabilitation is to actually get hands-on experience by volunteering at different places. And, taking these conferences and courses on wildlife rehabilitation offered by different universities. And I wanted to make sure that I have the right information with me and the IWRC, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council offers this test called Certified Wildlife rehabilitator ensuring that any person who passes this test has an understanding of all different aspects of wildlife rehabilitation. Because it’s not just the veterinary field, it has ecology as part of it, nutrition and many other aspects for someone to become a successful wildlife rehabilitator. So, to make sure I have my concepts right, I was looking for some certification and that is how I found this certification and took it sometime in 2014, I think. I’m happy to be qualified as a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator. Having done that, not only am I a Certified Wildlife rehabilitator now, I am also one of the instructors for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) who offer these training courses into wildlife rehabilitation.
Lalitha Krishnan: I am glad for all the people you work with and all the animals you rescue. They’re in good hands. You studied veterinary technology. It’s not a familiar term. Could you explain that line of study?
Jayanthi Kallam: In India, again we don’t have this specific field of veterinary technology. In the US there’s this defined role as a veterinary technician. Veterinary technicians can do a lot of things except for performing surgery or prognosis in medical outcomes but they receive knowledge and training and skills like animal anatomy, animal handling, pharmacology, anaesthesia, radiology, surgical nursing you know, many different skills that go along with handling an animal and taking care of an animal even including giving medications. Since, that was not the path I wanted to fast track my career into wildlife rehabilitation because even when I started this, my goal was ultimately to start a wildlife rehabilitation centre of my own. I wanted to make sure that I am familiar enough–since I don’t come from a vet background—familiar enough with the concepts and things like that. That’s why I took this Veterinary Technology course. It’s a two-year course to basically get familiarized, to understand how to take care of an animal medically.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s amazing. It’s so interesting to know that there are so many options to study. It’s been7 years since you established Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC) with Saleem Hameed, who is a noted environmentalist, illustrator and photographer, also the winner of the David Shepherd Award from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Nature Forever Society’s Sparrow award. I would love to hear how you began … there are so many stories to tell.
Jayanthi Kallam: Again, going back into my journey, in 2012, I quit my corporate career. I wanted to do something that mattered to me. In 2012-2014, I was in the US, trying to get into fields like conservation, land restoration, organic farming, wildlife rehabilitation etc. Suddenly I felt like, you know, why not do this in my home country? And, I wanted to explore possibilities if it would be feasible for me to come back here and do something. So, I took a trip to India and I went to different cities here trying to find like-minded people, figuring out what possibilities exist. One such person I met is Saleem Hameed. At that time, what he said to me definitely inspired me a lot and that’s how I ended up starting up ARRC in Bangalore along with him. He is one of the pioneers in wildlife rehabilitation in Bangalore. He has dedicated his life for a very long time. That was when wildlife rehabilitation did not exist as a field at the time. When I spoke to him it became very clear that many people here care about wildlife, the formal way of taking care of them or the science part of it, the finances part of it makes it a little bit difficult to give the highest standards of rehabilitation. So, that looked like an opportunity for me because I was exposed in the US to different wildlife rehabilitation centres that existed for years which run with a scientific approach and all that. So, I wanted to get some of that back to India and thanks to the support of a few other friends who are also trustees of ARRC now, we can financially start this as a philanthropic initiative from all of us. So, our passion also was in wildlife rehabilitation, the finances were there and the guidance of Saleem is also there. With all this, we thought we could make a difference by starting a wildlife rehabilitation centre here in India and thankfully, it did work out for us today. In 2016 we started and in 2021 about 6600 animals have been rehabilitated through our centre. I feel it’s been a good journey so far.
Lalitha Krishnan: Truly. In fact, I was very impressed with how the professional way your staff rescued a bird from a park in front of my house. He was quiet, he was quick and he was efficient. What according to you makes a good rescue centre excellent? Tell us about the training your staff undergo at ARRC?
Jayanthi Kallam: All our people who work, particularly the rescuers, don’t have any formal background in wildlife rescues as such. Some of them have probably passed their higher secondary school, you know. It’s not like they studied wildlife and then come and become wildlife rescuers. But, even when we hire someone, we look for that passion in them, like wanting to do right… It’s not just a job for them, they also want to do something good. So, we hire people like that and once they start working with us, we take a lot of time in fact, to culturally get them inducted into our own philosophy at ARRC as such where the animal matters first. Whenever you do a rescue it’s important to ensure the animal is safe, the rescuer is safe and the public at large is safe. Initially, when someone joins us, he will shadow a senior rescuer and they will learn from them on the job. And, all of that will be reinforced back through the training sessions and one on one coaching that we give. That’s how a Wildlife Rescuer becomes so efficient but it stems from a larger philosophy that we have which if you’re okay with, I will go into…
Lalitha Krishnan: Go ahead
One of the things that drive us to be efficient is the understanding that most non-profits including ours are limited by resources whether it is financial resources or technical resources etc. So we have to use these minimal resources to do the maximum impact. -Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director (ARRC)
And, in doing so being efficient, being quick and being to the point helps a lot. So that is why we train our rescuers also to get information about the rescue ahead of time, discuss with the team, go with the plan, finish the rescue with minimal stress to the animal and carry the animal back because after the animal is rescued, it has to come back to the rehabilitation centre to get treatment. That’s how they are trained to make sure that it (a rescue) is done efficiently so that they can rescue more animals and they can get those animals back to the hospital in time so that their treatment can start.
Lalitha Krishnan: Alright. There are so many people at ARRC who play so many different roles. Starting with the vet, you have the Outreach Coordinator, the Rescue Coordinator, the Wildlife rehabilitator, the Animal Care Manager, the Animal Rescuer, the Animal caretaker and of course the Maintenance Staff. I was wondering if you could briefly tell us about one of these roles, perhaps the Rescue Coordinator?
Jayanthi Kallam: Generally, I think Rescue Coordinator is one of the most important—a key role—for a rescue centre because the first interface that the public have when they find an animal is they call the rescue helpline and it reaches the rescue centre. So, it is important for this person to calm the person, assess the situation, try to get the key information from the caller and then accurately access the situation and figure out how the animal needs help. And, if it does, how to go about it, and assign the right rescue team which can handle that rescue safely.
They will have to deal with different types of personalities. Some people who call are very nervous when they find an animal. Some people who call, they get very aggressive you know.” How long are you going to take? Can you not come in the next five minutes?” Some people will not be sure. They want to help but they don’t want to. They’re scared of the animal…all kinds of people call the Rescue Coordinator. Through all this, they have to keep their objective in mind which is helping the animal which cannot speak for itself. There is no caretaker for that animal who can accurately give a history of all that had happened. So to keep the person calm, to keep themselves calm and to be able to help the animal is the role that a rescue Coordinator has to play. Day in, day out, someday there could be 50 calls on the phone. It doesn’t matter. They have to keep going through one rescue call after another and ensure that every call gets the same kind of proper care, proper instructions: Animal is safe, the person is safe, our rescue team is safe. That’s why I think the Rescue Coordinator role is a key role and thankfully we do have some good people handling these rescue calls at our centre.
Lalitha Krishnan: It’s an important role but I think each of you’ll in your way have very important roles. Thank you.
I also spoke with some members of the team who work behind the scenes including the vet, Dr Ashwata.
Dr Ashwatha: Hi, I’m Dr Ashwatha and I’ve been working with ARRC for a little over three years now. Wildlife is not exactly, entirely deeply taught in veterinary studies in India. So, it was quite a new field for me and I have been learning ever since I joined here and I am still learning. It’s very rewarding to work here I feel.
Lalitha Krishnan: What’s a normal day for you?
Dr Ashwatha: I come around 10 am and my main aim when I come is to recap on what has happened from the time, I left in the previous evening till the morning that I reach there so I recap with all that has happened overnight and then I move on to what we have to do that day. What birds and animals need more attention? Like, the whole course for the day. And, who’s going to handle what feeds? Basically, a whole overview, a take-up on that and also, this is peak season…
Lalitha Krishnan: I didn’t know that.
Dr Ashwatha: Yes, we have to excessively stress on how to manage the large number of birds that we are getting so that is one main thing we are busy with right now. So, all the cages are full and we have to release the birds that are good and everything has to be monitored. There’s always one work or the other.
Lalitha Krishnan: When one rescues an animal, apart from what you physically see, one doesn’t know its history. How do you figure that out and resolve issues?
Dr Ashwatha: OK. Obviously, we all know animals can’t speak; that is one of the biggest problems that we face. But otherwise also, whenever something is wrong…like even for us, if we are having a cold, it is manifested by some or other symptoms. We’ll cough or see dullness at least. The same things are correlated in animals also. So, if an individual is not feeling well, they are going to be dull. That in itself is a major symptom. So, to treat dullness, the first thing (that needs to be done) is to get them back to health. Once that is taken care of, you can find out what other issues are there. And there will be a lot of information in the history of the animal. We get many cases of animal attacks. Then we would search for injuries; accordingly, we treat them. If a person is reporting a bird that would have fallen from the nest, then we know it’s a young one. We check it for fractures and accordingly we treat it after that.
So, one main thing about wildlife is that they get stressed very easily. In wildlife, it’s a very common thing that stress kills. Sometimes even if a bird is dull and we don’t find any physical abnormalities or any injuries or anything like that, it so happens that just the presence of a human can cause a bird’s death. We have to be very careful about how much human interaction, these birds and animals are facing. We try to keep it minimal. We always handle them with a cloth.- Dr Ashwathi, Vet (ARRC)
Sometimes, we can’t quite ascertain the causes of why they have come to us. In case we administer palliative treatment based on our assumptions and what we see. It’s dull, we give it fluids. It’s not able to eat, we keep it on fluids. We go ahead with such treatment till we are certain about what may have caused it to be dull. Usually, that resolves it. Invasive treatments in wildlife lead to stress; that would anyway cause its death.
Recently, I have been dealing with a lot of collision cases in kites. Usually, we see a lot of collision cases in small birds like koels (cuckoos)
Lalitha Krishnan: Collision meaning glass?
Dr Ashwatha: Mostly it’s glass. They won’t be able to see it and they just crash. Koels are fruit-eating birds. They would be foraging in the garden and all of a sudden they’d fly up and not see a window and crash into them. Those are common cases with koels. But Kites, as such fly high. But once in a while, they do crash into a skyscraper. We’ve been getting those cases—not a lot but a little more in number—and I’ve been wanting to figure out how to deal with those. The kited head-on crash into something and their face gets affected. We have been seeing that their eyes get affected. As such, dealing with an affected eye is very difficult. They need to see to catch their prey or scavenge or whatever. So yes, we have been dealing with those and have been finding them very challenging. Even, to find out which antibiotics are more preferable for eye infections and all that. Recently we did surgery for a male kite who had an eye deformity. We are still waiting on how his recovery will be but usually, these birds actually, can live with one eye. They manage to adjust to their surroundings and learn how to fly around them. As long as their claws are fine, they can actually live in the wild also.
Jayanthi Kallam: First aid for animals particularly for wildlife? There are certain rules and laws. You don’t want people to end up keeping them at home. Or keep them for too long. What would be more appropriate for citizens would be how to coexist with wildlife.
We get a lot of calls from apartment complexes or Resident Welfare Associations: “We have a problem with bats around us”, “We have a problem with owls.” Right now, in the current season, I just heard from my Rescue Coordinator that we’re getting a lot of calls about Kite conflicts. We are living in an urban environment which we share with this wildlife. They use this space; we use this space. We are all using these common spaces so encounters are inevitable. Depends on our perspective whether we see it as a conflict or an encounter with an animal.
So how to coexist with wild animals or wild neighbours is important. We can all do something to promote wildlife in our neighbourhoods. Those kinds of talks or presentations would be more appropriate for general citizens I feel.
Lalitha Krishnan: That sounds more practical. You made a career in wildlife rescue. What would you tell somebody who is contemplating the same?
Jayanthi Kallam: Wildlife rescue or rehabilitation is now a way of life I would say for me. When you empathise with urban wildlife or wildlife in general, you will understand that they are suffering a lot because of how our goals are not in alignment with what is good for them. Our own developmental goals are directly putting us in conflict with animals. We are taking away their habitat, we are constructing things that are obstructing their pathways and things like that. So, if somebody wants to get into wildlife, I would say, first, one should understand the ecology behind it. The importance of the eco-services that wildlife provides for us. And, once you understand why it’s important still you have to be prepared for this career because it’s not an easy career. That I would say. There’s not great pay in it. That’s unfortunate but still, people are working in it because they’re passionate about it. It (lost in translation) a social engineering causes for all of us. If we are aware of the things we are causing knowingly and unknowingly to the wildlife we share the space with, this person who makes a career or wildlife rescues would be a conduit. Or be this person who will make the society around him aware of the disconnect between wildlife and humans. And, how we can be compassionate and can live in a way in which we can co-exist with wildlife. So, the career needs a lot of dedication, a lot of understanding of the wild animals in general because these animals will not be able to tell us what they need. You have to try and figure it out. You have to understand animal behaviour. It’s quite an interesting field I would say because it combines a lot of different aspects. Like I keep repeating, it’s about animal behaviour, it’s about ecology, it’s about urban development and the confluence of all these things and figure out a response to this conflict that we are facing today and turn it into coexistence. That is the role of this wildlife rescuer or rehabilitator. So, career-wise, it is extremely interesting. A person would grow by working in this but it has to come from the passion because it’s not one of those high paid careers out there.
Lalitha Krishnan: Like most outdoor careers. Well said. Thank you. I also spoke to Veerababu, Wildlife Rescuer at ARRC who has been working there since 2016.
When you get a rescue request what do you feel?
(Since English is not Veerababu’s first language, I have translated the gist of his conversation)
VeeraBabu: Actually, the animal does not express its pain to me but I feel its pain. We have a voice. Animals are voiceless. I don’t understand what it’s expressing but, in my heart, I feel its pain 100%. When I get a rescue call, we go and evaluate the situation, plan and discuss with the team also on how to proceed with the rescue. Then taking precautions we safely rescue the bird and bring it here to the rehabilitation team at the centre and after it has healed, I release it in the same location. I release and rescue both. Rescue first. Before taking the bird to the centre I inform them of the bird’s condition so they prepare for it in advance. When it has healed and can fly, I help to release it back where it was picked up.
Lalitha Krishnan: You must feel very good then?
Veerbabu. Actually, I can proudly say, we have job satisfaction which is most important. I never had that in my previous places of employment. I am happy to do good work.
Lalitha Krishnan: What does your wife think about your job?
Veerababu: My wife is very supportive. She also works in a hospital, also in service. Her mindset and mine are aligned about doing service. My family is not rich. My father is a carpenter. I do this work without thinking of what financial profits will come my way.
Lalitha Krishnan: So, both of you are in the caring line of work.
Veerababu: Yes. Always.
Lalitha Krishnan: Guys, hold on, this is not the end. Do listen to part 2 to find out how Jayanthi Kallam and her team at ARRC are raising the standards of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in India.
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Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet and others on site
Podcast cover photo: Lalitha Krishnan. Artwork: Lalitha Krishnan
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