India beckons: 01 June 2009
The last few days have been fairly duck focused. Last night we had a stray duckling arrive in our garden; Little Charlie – our cat – was extremely pleased about this, as was Leuven – our ridgeback – so we all chased it about in a fruitless attempt to catch it. Despite our best efforts, it thankfully found it’s way into Nick’s pond next door where its mother came down to find it – great news. There is nothing like a family duck reunion to get you in a good mood before a long trip. Lulu (my head nurse) also informed me just as I was about to leave for the airport that the duck we operated on last Friday not only made it through the weekend but is happily quacking at home with her other rescue duck ‘Deefa’. It’s been given the name ’Polo’ due to the fact it had a huge hole in its beak which we repaired. All great news – since things come in threes, I’m currently waiting for the third duck to appear as I write this blog.
I have a sneaky suspicion that I’ll be in for a long wait. I don’t think Southern India is famed for them, but I could be wrong. No idea what to expect other than plenty of variety and a buffalo with a broken horn. The last few weeks have, once again, gone with a blur. Noah is racing about at home now and causing joyous mayhem everywhere he goes and I can’t believe I’m once again seated on the aisle of a middle row at the back of a fully packed 747 to Bangalore. Seems to have been a mix up with the breakfast – Bruce is sitting a couple of seats to my right has just been given an omelette, I’ve been given a scorching curry. The air hostesses are literally racing up and down dishing out food trays at a million miles an hour, I don’t think there is much chance of me swapping this one. Guess it’s a good a time as any to start easing myself into local cuisine.
One other thing I didn’t know is that Bruce is also a comic writer. I’ve just read one on the flight – wow.
Arrived!: 02 June 2009
Touch tired, about two hours kip in the last 24 and it’s been epic getting here. Lots of plane/baggage delays but we’re here and all is looking like a winner. We’re in Puttarparthi in Andrha Pradesh, it’s the home of Sai Baba who is one of the most famous gurus in India and there are pilgrims, all dressed in white robes, everywhere you look. Widely believed to be a reincarnate of a Hindu deity, he has a worldwide following in their millions and has done a lot of good things around here. There is a free hospital, innumerate water supplies, many free schools built, provided for and funded by him and that is just the start. His picture is everywhere and everyone here is an ardent follower.
We are here to help the Karuna Society, run by Dutch ex-pat Clementein, who is overwhelmed with cases at the shelter. I’m going to have my work cut out – huge amount to do and a lot that needs help. First case was a rabid dog that was quite out of control, snapping and biting – bit of a drama. It had to be put down and thanks to the skilful handling of Clementien and her team no one was hurt. This one will be a challenge.
Karuna: 03 June 2009
Karuna does a huge amount of things and has a lot of projects on the go. Dogs, cats and monkeys are in abundance, most injured, paralysed or with broken limbs in various states of repair. Out the back of the main clinic are cows, buffaloes, a couple of donkeys missing a leg and a huge camel that has been rescued. There is an organic vegetable garden that supplies a local shop to raise funds for the shelter, complete with a cheese making station and mango orchard – the milk of which comes from yet more cows that have been rescued from illegal cattle trucks transporting the beasts to slaughter (bad death if you are a cow in India). That’s not all – there is also a wildlife enclosure that contains some rescued moon bears that have been saved from a dancing troop. The two adults are quite temperamental but the two cubs that they rescued a couple of months ago are absolutely adorable. I shouldn’t say this but if I could rescue a dancing bear cub and keep it as a pet – I probably would. They are great, they climb up on the sides of their pen, turn on the tap in the sink (many of the pens have sinks) and are both little characters that are very easy to fall in love with.
All of this is thanks to Clementein and her team. She is a force. Predictably she is also amazingly humble, very strong willed and incredibly determined. What she has done/is doing is amazing and very inspiring. The only one aspect that worries me is that she has such a challenge and has taken on so much, that it is very hard for her to say goodbye to some of the animals. I don’t feel I have any right to come in here, volunteer for effectively five minutes and then say that some of the animals should be put down.
I want to support and help this amazing woman and the shelter so I’m going to try to be a sounding board and we’ll see how it goes. Very difficult. Find myself questioning what the long term benefits are of this but I think it does give people hope and certainly she has a lot of support in the village. It would be very wrong to knock Clementine – she has made a real difference here – nearest vet is over four hours away so without her, cows wouldn’t be treated, people would suffer, and all the other animals would be stuck for help.
Big cases – dog in a coma – horrendous pyo, few flank bitch spays which is a new technique for me to get the hang of (one was pregnant which was a challenge), cystotomy on a cat missing two front legs. Cat seems very happy so worth trying to sort.
But must stop now; 12 hour day, 45 degree heat, one piece of toast and a sip of water. All of us are shot. Would love to go into more detail but need a beer and some kip. More tomorrow.
Bears: 04 June 2009
We were all guns blazing today – baking hot and lots of cases. Adam, Marc and Nathan have been charging about filming endless cases – from their point of view it’s incredibly frustrating because its hard to know which cases will make the cut and none of us know what’s going to happen. Carrying all the gear around is no mean feat so they are pretty tired. For me, it’s brilliant to have so much to do but I’m finding it incredibly challenging. I put a cow down today which was collapsed and toxic. It’s very difficult as although Clementien is incredibly caring and does agree with it in principle, the issue of euthanasia is fairly tricky here. I’m learning a huge amount and a lot of natural remedies which are fascinating. Clementien is self taught in all sorts of techniques and she has had huge experience with the volume of animals coming through the door. The nearest vet is 4 hours drive away so often she is the only port of call for many of the creatures that come to her door. She uses green clay, silver solutions and all sorts of herbs – really interesting.
We treated a bird today I would probably have put down in my clinic back home, it must have weighed about 50grams and would easily fit in the palm of your hand but we had a go and sure enough it has made it so far. It had a ruptured abdomen and huge tears, amazing it survived considering its injuries and I pray it makes a full recovery.
I also was called out by Susie, a visiting Australian and follower of Sai Baba. She came to the shelter to report an injured donkey that couldn’t walk. Once we got to it we had to squeeze it into the back of a motorised three wheeler taxi to get it back to the shelter for treatment!
Really good fun and the donkey seemed to enjoy the ride. Susie was great and it was good to meet her, very interesting life story and she is shortly off to Trinidad to work in an Ashram over there. Interesting the people you meet in these places.
The high point though has to be feeding the bear cubs that Karuna have rescued from a dancing bear troop. They are adorable. I saw them briefly the other day but had some quality time with them tonight, they are all fluff!
Tomorrow off to see some painted storks – one has a broken leg apparently so we will see how that goes. Have to brush up on my avian medicine! Exhausting trip but this is what it’s all about.
The Thrird Duck: 05 June 2009
I had a big debate with Bruce about whether a painted stork could count as my third duck. On balance it has a much bigger beak and much longer legs but I reckon as far as Indian equivalents go; it’s the best I’m going to get on this adventure.
This particular massive bird was hanging upside down from a tree with it’s legs tangled in a branch. As a troop of monkeys looked on, Narender scaled the branches like a pro whilst I literally had to drag myself up a tree. I’m sure the monkeys were not the only ones who had a good laugh about it as crowd gathered round. Somehow Narender managed to balance on a branch no bigger than my wrist about 20ft about the ground, I was about the ten foot level on a much bigger platform but between us, we got the bird down like a slick tree climbing bird rescue team. Narender to me, me to a special friend on ground level. It was a four month old chick but if you stretched it out, it would be almost four foot.
The bird had a few nicks but was fine and we got it in the nick of time. Karuna have a shelter for the painted storks and fix up about 200-400 chicks each season. Those that get abandoned, fall from their nests, get blown off the trees or tangled up. The nest site for these birds is incredible – right in the middle of a village and including chicks there are approx 9000 of them. The villagers think they are lucky so put up with the deafening noise and huge amounts of bird droppings that rain from the sky!
Rest of the day – great. Couple of big interviews about the shelter animals, Adam had some fun filming us from the back of an ox cart! Easier said than done but he managed it- much better balance than my efforts climbing the tree, that’s for sure. Marc is definitely cheering up as we are getting a handle on the cases and Bruce is feeling a bit better. All in all, a winner.
Spay Master Class: 06 June 2009
Dr Nanderandi smiled as he casually talked me through the flank bitch spay technique today – 7 minutes later he lay down his instruments. Well, 7 minutes and 17 seconds to be precise but who’s counting 17 seconds. For those at all interested the anaesthetic was 2mg/kg xylazine IM, 0.02mg/kg atropine s/c then 5minutes later one handed catheterisation 10m/kg ketamine I/v and on a drip. No tops up needed (except for my slow coach 16minute effort which needed an extra jab) but these are a 50:50mix of 20mg/ml xylazine and 100mg/ml ketamine and given at 0.5ml/10kg. Every animal gets meloxicam and la antibiotic – one suture of silk horizontal mattress and this is removed after 5 days. They look perfect. So today I had the master class in spaying and I have loved it. This morning was an epic removal of a buffalo horn with a fracture and then this afternoon spaying. Apparently the vet working with us tomorrow is even faster. I’m out of my league with these guys.
It has been another scorcher but the monsoon is apparently on its way so we’ll see how that goes. Avian medicine isn’t a hot topic with me at the moment – a little bird I operated on died and I’m really sad about it – it just hated captivity and I think the biggest lesson I learned there was that wild birds belong free and the issue of hospitalisation is a factor I didn’t consider enough. Really disappointed and it was doing so well for the last couple of days!
The crew is all in the zone, Adam just said he feels relaxed and chilled, Bruce is feeling less melancholy and not so full of angst, Marc is apparently zooper – whatever that means.
Bring on the donkeys tomorrow!
Shortbread Biscuits: 07 June 2009
Lots of GVs today, Marc and I paid a courtesy visit to the local chief of police armed with a tin of shortbread biscuits which went down well; so whilst permissions for town shooting were cleared at a local level, unfortunately the secret police patrolling outside the Ashram (due to high security alert from terrorist bomb threats) had other ideas so we had to cut that a bit short. Driving the truck through the town was an experience to say the least! There are no rules other than honk your horn and go for gold! Marc is immensely pleased with himself because the policeman told him how much he liked his beard and that he looked like a Hero (to my villain of course).
Marc, Adam and Nathan headed back to base after the interviews whilst I hopped on the back of Narenda’s motorbike for a trip to treat some donkeys Clementien was worried about. These animals head off into the forest each day and come laden back with huge amounts of sticks strapped on the backs. The sticks rub then raw and some were in a bad way. They weren’t exactly in the best part of town – the donkeys were being ‘hidden’ from thieves behind the cemetery, just through the rubbish tip by the open drainage to a small ‘lake’ of sewage. Grim doesn’t come close.
It was a great visit because it seemed to go down well with the community there. They are the poorest people about – they have absolutely nothing. It was nice to help out in a small way and I’m quite pleased the cameras weren't there for this one as we could race around and get through most of the animals without me messing up any lines or having to explain everything I was doing.
None of the vets at Karuna have much donkey experience so it was nice to contribute to their amazing work. Having said that, I’m certain Clementien would have been there next week donkey vet or no donkey vet as she isn’t frightened of taking on any challenges when it comes to animal welfare!
Farewell Karuna: 08 June 2009
Bruce got upset today because I called him Navender. It’s a great name and Bruce Navender has a ring to it. I think he’s secretly getting into the whole new identity thing.
I’m getting mobbed by the beggars here, none of the crew are getting touched or grabbed whilst I seem to be quite popular on the street. No one messes with Adam, they all love Marc’s beard whilst Bruce is virtually a local now with his new name. I on the other hand must have a target on my back or something. One beggar swooped up beside me in the back of a tuk tuk the other afternoon and literally lunged from the backseat onto the edge of the street, army rolled across the busy road and made a double handed grab for my legs. Pretty impressive as he did it all on his hands. The others think that, despite it being incredibly sad to see so many people like this, me being a magnet for every leper and street urchin is hilarious. I’m just not into the touching thing at all. The locals are very sceptical of the beggars here – they run the black market in loans to people who can’t borrow money from the banks and apparently some of them rent babies for 50 rupees a day to increase revenue from begging. I’m sure that isn’t the case with every baby I see strapped on the back of a poor mother and you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the plight of these little children – but when hands start going for your pockets and you get absolutely crushed by a gang of them it gets a bit overwhelming.
Today was a big livestock community day in a rural village about 30mins drive from town. Karuna did an incredible job – over 200 animals treated, and it was fantastically run by a very professional and dedicated crew.
I gave a hand (or arm) with pregnancy diagnosing a lot of the buffalo, and I just think the charity do such a great job. I may disagree with Clementien on a couple of cases in terms of keeping that going but that must not detract from the fact that she is doing fantastic work. Without her there would be no one for hundreds of kilometres and no animal gets turned away, every animal gets a chance and she is making a difference. The fact she meets every difficult decision head on is really admirable and I really support and believe in what she has done and is doing here. I definitely won’t forget this visit in a hurry and it has been a privilege to work with her and her team.
IPAN: 10 June 2009
Epic couple of days. Ten-hour journey yesterday to the jungle. It’s really great to see Nigel (who runs the shelter) and the team again – wonderful to revisit a charity I worked at 3 years ago and very emotional to see some of the animals I rescued on my first visit. Nigel is an inspiration and it’s a privilege to be working with him again.
Removed 14-kilos of plastic from a cow’s stomach today – incredible.
Poor cows salt seek and end up on the rubbish dumps eating plastic which chokes them and slowly kills them. I was absolutely covered in rumen contents after the op – surprisingly no one would give me a hug.
The Plight of Elephants: 15 June 2009
The last 72 hours of the trip were immense. To briefly recap, whilst the TV crew headed back to check the footage, I did another rumenotomy on a cow and removed a staggering 20kg of plastic/money/nails which is incredible. Then Nigel and I headed off to town to get some elephant food for the following day. This was the start of an epic journey and involved an incredibly sad start to the movement of a suspected TB infected elephant.
A few dazzling stats I’ve picked up recently; India’s human population apparently accounts for a third of the world’s TB cases, a quarter of Asian elephants are in captivity and India has over 3,500 of the poor animals mostly located in temples. There is a suspected high incidence of TB amongst the captive elephant population and this is a huge risk for the people that go to worship the elephants and who receive a blessing – particularly if you are immunosuppressed. This blessing comprises a hearty pat on the head from a probing trunk and heavy inhalation of elephant breath – thus the transmission of TB.
When temple elephants get old they aren’t as useful to the temples as they can’t keep up with the work. As they are sacred the temples are in a fix because they can’t get rid of them. If they have suspected TB they can’t be kept at the temples. The animal we were involved with had been moved to a horrible pen for five months and Nigel was championing its movement to a better enclosure. Our visit was the impetus to do this as it generated good PR for the forest department but it didn’t go quite to plan.
The elephant in question had apparently killed three people but the media circus and brutality of the mahouts was something else. The forest vet in charge of proceedings was beyond useless and it was incredibly upsetting. At one point they tried to stop us filming and we refused – I didn’t fancy their chances of trying to get the camera off Adam anyway and I think they knew it. By getting totally in the way I think we did curb a bit of the brutality and I had a very ineffectual altercation with one vicious mahout who was sent away shortly afterwards by the senior mahout but it was grim. They didn’t have a ramp to load her and once they had stabbed sharp metal hooks into her mouth and jabbed her ears repeatedly as well as beaten her endlessly for about three hours, they drafted in 2 male elephants to shove her onto the lorry. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt and she did go on but we were all speechless and felt so helpless to help her. Very sad.
The actual overnight journey went well – 300km or so and we unloaded her easily – she was good as gold. Very tired at the end of it though! Her new home looked lovely so at least there was a happy ending and she’ll be much better away from her previous captors that’s for sure.
To round off 48hours on 1 hours sleep, I treated a sick temple elephant that had some abscesses and a bad foot and then we started the drive back to Bangalore. Thankfully I managed the closing lines with only about ten takes (!) and then we set off. Tyre burst on the way back so the driver and I changed that while Marc had some crisps and then the headlights wouldn’t work which was borderline the most terrifying drive of my life.
We made it to the airport, all of us exhausted, 3am check in and then back. Amazing trip, great people and challenging cases – I hope the rest are like this.
Community Day: 16 June 2009
Big community day – heading to the poorest communities of Grenada. Large mix of fairly scary looking pit bull terriers and other rangy street dogs. Lot of skin problems, one dog had been bitten by a mongoose, another had a foreign body between it’s toes (which we sedated and flushed), couple of TVT’s (transmissible venereal tumours) – course of vincristine and arranged to be neutered, and the standard array of bite wounds and flea, tick and worm infestations. One chap we met runs a rum shop/bar out of a shack, big fella with dreads and a large gold tooth – came out first with a huge pit bull terrier proudly telling me it had killed ten other dogs that had come onto his territory – he then returned moments later with a little cavalier king charles spaniel which he sheepishly brought me for treatment (had KCS – dry eye). Big tough guy with his tough dog for show and then his little lap dog he clearly dotes on. Really sweet little dog. I have my suspicions that his big pit bull isn’t quite as fierce as he made out as well, it wagged its tail like mad when I was examining it and it seemed almost as soft as the little CKC! He was a very friendly guy as well so I think the bravado was a bit for show for the crowd as much as anything else.
People are really friendly and seemed very happy for us to pitch up and do the treatments. Didn’t see any real signs of cruelty or abuse, more neglect and ignorance as is normally the case. Amazing to dip just over the hill, not a mile from the luxurious coast and white sandy beaches to find just impoverished wooden shacks that no tourist would ever realise were there. All the kids were flying home made kites which made dazzling displays above us as we worked.
Rest of the team are on form. Clive is deep in the zone wearily rolling his eyes every time I try to mix two drugs in the same syringe whilst trying to carefully steer me on the right track as I fire out drugs and treatments to any animal that comes in range. It’s great to have his help on the clinics, despite me corrupting his perfectionist approach to each case, he’s a huge asset with the tricky ones and it’s brilliant having someone to bounce ideas off. Adam seems pretty chilled which is great, Nathan is carrying stuff a lot and I think Marc’s a bit worried about gripping stories so fingers crossed we find something really hardcore to get stuck into on Carriacou where we are heading by boat tomorrow.