Heart of Conservation Podcast. Ep #27 Part 2 Show notes (Edited)
Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, part 2 of Episode 27 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to our natural world. Today, I continue my conversation with Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director of Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre in Bangalore and part of her amazing team including Subeksha, Ranjana, Samiiha and Veerababu to find out what it takes to make a wildlife rehabilitation centre an efficient and successful one.
Subeksha: Hi, my name is Subeksha. I am the Rescue Coordinator here; I am also an Animal Rehabilitator and I have been working here for a year and a half now. My role involves coordinating rescues, managing the place a little bit as well. I do work with the animals directly.
Lalitha Krishnan: I understand ‘co-ordinator’ but how exactly does it work?
Subeksha: The first step to that is dealing with outside people when they call you, answering calls, giving them basic instructions on how to handle the situation till the rescue team arrives and then planning out how to go about the rescue. Which person to send, what equipment will be needed for the rescue, figuring all of that out… How to optimize so that…on some days we do get a whole lot of rescues.-Subeksha (Animal coordinator at ARRC)
Lalitha Krishnan: What is a whole lot?
Subeksha: Depends on the season. Right now we are getting into the season where we are getting a lot of baby animals coming in. We also have a lot of Manja (kite string with glued-on glass) cases coming in so some days rescues may go up from 15-20 rescues a day. So I’m making sure it’s all done efficiently and animals get rescued on time. So I’m coordinating that.
Lalitha Krishnan: And when you speak about making a plan, how long does that take to make a plan when you get a rescue call?
Subeksha: It is very dynamic. So, a rescuer may be assigned for something else but if a situation comes up which needs more immediate attention, they will be redirected there and another person will be sent for this. So, it (the plan) has to be immediate so that it’s based on the situation. Which one gets more priority? So, yes, it’s instantaneous. It’s very dynamic.
Ranjana: My name is Ranjana. I’ve also been here for about a year and a half. I’m under training for rescue coordination and currently, I’m mainly working with animals, the rehabilitation and caretaking part with respect to feeds. One of the things we are prioritizing right now are nestlings-like you saw over there. It’s the season for kite nestlings that are coming in. So, we are prioritizing that at the moment and I also handle the social media part of it for our centre.
Lalitha Krishnan: OK. What is a typical day like for you?
Ranjana: A typical day as a rehabilitator…we mainly start about 6:00 am. We do a check on all the animals that are currently at the centre. Any critical animal will get immediate care/intervention. Post that, we get on to feeds. Each animal has to be reviewed with respect to what feeds they are on. If they’re weak, they’re put on fluids and things like that. So, that has to be taken care of. So once the feeds are done, we get on to two different things at the moment. One is the ICU where we have animals like kites and crows and the other section is the neonatal part where we have younger, smaller birds and squirrels and animals like that.
Ranjana: The schedule varies a lot with respect to both sections. So, then we have our ICU where the critical animals are attended to. Animals with wounds and medications are checked about twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Dressings, if they have to be done. If animals are eating properly. Things like that are taken care of. Post that, we also have feeds. Again, to ensure the young ones are growing well, they’re eating, if they need any intervention in case they’re not eating. And also. being able to monitor their health if they’re not looking as great, we have to intervene asap. So, this happens throughout the day and in the evening it’s more focused on the nocturnal animals. We also have a lot of owls and bats and animals like that. So, they get a little more priority.
Sameha: Hi, I’m Samiha Zele. So my daily schedule is feedings when I come in; weighing the meat that needs to be fed. So, most neonatal birds, don’t eat meats. It’s mostly fruits and seeds and the kites and crows get meat. The crows also get papaya. And then, we also have bats. They devour fruit plates. So I chop up fruits in the evening for them and then I work on filling up fluids, medicine, helping with other small duties at the same time in-between.
Lalitha Krishnan: What backgrounds are you’ll coming from? What did you do before this? Or is this your first job?
Ranjana: No, I actually studied architecture. Midway through that is when I realized that this is kind of what I wanted to do. There was a period when I was trying to combine both passions because I wasn’t ready to let go of either. So, I was working on habitat design and enclosure designs for a while at my last job and then during the beginning of Corona is when I heard about the opening and I applied for this job.
Subeksha: I actually did my Masters’s in Wildlife Science from Amity University, Noida. So, for a while, I kind of had my eyes on a rehabilitation kind of setting for a long time since that’s where I feel I fit in, in a way because that’s what I want to contribute to.
There’s a lot more to rehab than what most people think. It’s not just about rescuing animals and putting them out there. There’s a whole lot that goes into it. You have to take things like ecology and disease management…there’s so much to the field.
So, yes, I felt like this was something where I could contribute. My main focus before that was on research and I said, “Hey this would be nice to do”. At some point during my Masters, I really wanted to pursue this. That’s when I reached out and started working here. Yes, this is my first job.
Samiha: I completed high school in California and during that time, I worked in a parrot shelter. I’ve been working at a lot of different things related to conservation like little different fields in that which also include…I did a little bit of customer service and retail during certain periods. When I moved back to India in 2019, I started working as a Wildlife Education Assistant. Then, I was working in elephant research; then I was working on an independent project with another advisor in entrepreneurship during 2021. And, I just started working here in 2022 in February.
Lalitha Krishnan: Jayanthi, it’s been a tough two years for everyone with the pandemic. I want to know if the number of rescues decreased with everyone at home.
Jayanthi Kallam: Actually no. Quite unexpectedly, post-Covid, after the lockdowns, the numbers of certain rescues cases have skyrocketed. Two things have happened that have increased our rescues. One, which applies to Bangalore particularly, is Manja (kite string) cases. A lot of people during lockdown…their contact sports were limited. Children could not go out. They didn’t have school and people were looking at ways to engage the kids as they stayed together as a family so kite flying as a sport got picked up unexpectedly because people could do that from their terraces and things like that. And suddenly, we have seen these Manja cases skyrocket post the first lockdown. And it continued to increase. And, in the second lockdown last year, it became quite worse. Just to give you an example, in July of last year, 2021, we did 910 rescues out of which close to 600 were Manjarescues. All these birds hang to these kite flying threads that get left out after people fly them. So that in fact has increased the load. On one side there was this lockdown and we had quarantine protocols you know. People’s movements were restricted and we didn’t have all of our staff available to us. On the other side, there is an increasing number of rescues that were coming our way. We could not hire new staff during that time. So, that was a challenge to go through.
The second type of challenge we faced is a lot of people in the beginning part of the pandemic assumed that bats were the reason for Corona and suddenly we started getting so many calls to remove bats from neighbourhoods. People who were tolerant of bats before—and we have worked with them-but post-pandemic they were like, “No, we don’t want bats, please remove them”. That became a lot of work… trying to convince them. In some cases, provide alternatives in some other cases. Of course, we would never get involved in the removal of a wild animal because that goes against our objective in the first place. But we had to counsel all these people who are calling and do our best to convince them to try and coexist with bats and tell them that’s not the reason… and make them understand about Covid and the bats in general and try and disassociate that connection from bats and covid. In these ways, and many other ways actually, the lockdown has brought us increasing rescue calls. And, a lot of wildlife because the roads were all free and there was no movement from people. One spotted peacocks everywhere in Bangalore; on the roads, on the terraces and things like that. So even those rescue calls have increased. Lockdown had been a double whammy for us during covid because we had to make sure we, our animals and our employees are safe with all disrupted supply chains, a disrupted workforce and at the same time, we had to attend to increasing rescue calls. But we had a great team, we got through sound and safe on the other side. So we’re very glad about that.
Lalitha Krishnan: Hats off to you and your team. It’s so strange. One doesn’t think of all these things. One is so self-occupied. Most of the time, we only care about our next meal, our this and our that.
Jayanthi Kallam: That is the purpose of a wildlife rehabilitation centre according to me. See, if there is no wildlife rehabilitation centre, all these connections that we have with the animals around us, how we impact them, how they impact us, these connections get missed and we don’t think about it unless we see an animal. So, what happens if a community has a wildlife rescue centre? They are connecting with people… they get all these different calls or encounters with wildlife. There are different things, these stories go on and on and we don’t have time to go through 10% of it now. Now, as a rescue centre, we are specializing in looking at conflict in an urban environment between wild animals and humans. We gain a lot of understanding in how to mitigate these, figure out what the real issues are, how to go forward and things like that. So, that is the purpose of a rehabilitation centre. It’s not just the animals that benefit but in a way, the community gets the benefit because now the community has a place to go to if they have any questions, issues or they want to do something for wildlife/animals around them. You know, they have a place to go to now. That’s in some ways a service to the community also I feel and not just for the animals that come through our door.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s true. I wouldn’t have put it that way but it’s something to think about. Thank you so much, Jayanthi. Once an animal comes to you, it’s treated and has recovered, what do you do next?
Every wildlife rehabilitation centre’s primary goal or only goal is to return the wild animal back to nature. Back to its function in the wild. With that in mind, we emphasise so much on the right rescue and the right treatment which will enable us to put that animal back. Because these animals and birds have families too. They survive well in the wild where they belong.
There are two types of releases that we do. If it is an adult animal or if it is a juvenile animal, we try to put them back where they’re found. If we rescued it from your neighbourhood, I’ll try to release it about 50 metres from your house, something like that. But if it’s not an adult, if it is a young animal, which came as a baby to us, it also needs to learn critical life skills to survive. So, ‘hard releasing’ is not a good solution for the animal. We do what is called a ‘soft release’. We’re not just pushing them out there to survive. They have been in our care, in a rehabilitation-controlled setting and suddenly if you release them, they will not be able to survive in the wild. So, we go through what is called a ‘soft release’ process which is we acclimatize them in a safe environment like a cage or something like that. We acclimatize them first where we are going to release them so they get used to the sights, smell and sounds of that place and after a few days of that we try to give them access to the outside and it is up to them whether they leave. If we are doing this with five birds, two of them will leave and two of them may need a little more care so they might stay back. They will go as and when they will feel comfortable with the outside world. And, if they encounter anything they are not sure of, they will actually come back. Recently we released three tailor birds, these tiny little things and in post three days of release, in the evening, they come back to this cage that we have where they feel safe. They will be allowed to come back. Slowly, once they find themselves comfortable outside, they will release themselves. This process is called the soft release process which is important to do when these baby birds and animals grow up with us.
Lalitha Krishnan: Very interesting. Jayanthi, could you share or hold a concept that you hold dear that will improve our vocabulary or perception of the wild or wildlife rescues.
Jayanthi Kallam: The whole concept behind what we do with wildlife rescues and rehabilitation and the philosophy behind it is—at least for me –is the concept of eco-centric development. We all want to develop for sure as humans but we have a choice in which way we want to develop.
Is our development going to be egocentric or ecocentric? What is eco-centric development? Eco centric development looks at humans as a subset or a part of the environment and nature as a whole. It is based on this concept that there is value and importance of nature and every life form in it and we are also part of it. Whereas, eco-centric development focuses on the parts of nature that are useful to humans. So, our effort in doing this is to foster the connection we have with animals around us and encourage people to shift more toward this eco-centric approach by making them aware of the fact that these wild animals are also part of our neighbourhoods, nature and that our actions will have an impact on them. So, let us choose our future carefully and focus on eco-centric development realizing that that development is in what our development lies and which would be more sustainable and feasible in the long run.
Lalitha Krishnan: That is so enlightening. Thank you, Jayanthi.
Lalitha Krishnan: Veerababu, how many rescue calls do you get in a day?
Veerababu (edited): There are a lot of Manja cases coming in. Summer is the start of the Manja season. December to June. This is the big season but last year this time, we did so many rescues every day, around 20-25, 30. But now awareness is more widespread amongst children also. I always tell them not to use glass-glued kite stings. Wherever I go, I tell the children, “Hey guys don’t leave these kite strings behind, they’re very dangerous.” But now, I think things are changing a little bit. Not 100% but at least 50% change in mindset is happening I feel.
On that positive note, I’ll end this episode. I hope you enjoyed listening to Jayanthi Kallam and part of her team. Do check out the ARRC website. Heart of Conservation is available on several platforms. Do subscribe and spread the word, guys. Stay safe. Bye
Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.
Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan
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