We all have dreams of doing good, putting the lives of others before ourselves, leaving our imprints on the world and following our heart irrespective of the consequences.
But how many of us have the courage and selflessness to do so? In India, if your passion is to save animals and even more idealistically – birds – the most neglected of creatures, then your dream of helping them survive in this mad, bad world becomes a constant battle against overwhelming odds.
Only a few with extraordinary reserves of love and dedication keep soldiering on. Most of us, who are too caught up in the nitty-gritty of making a living and simply do not have the grit and patience to keep plugging away at such a herculean task, finally bow to the inevitable and throw in the towel, believing others who are more able and strong-hearted will carry on the mission. Only a few rare souls have the fighter instinct to make the impossible possible.
One of those rare characters is Abhinav Srihan, a man who doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
Today, some bird shelters in Noida and other areas have had to be shut down due to lack of funds and government support, he has had to discontinue several helplines due to lack of resources and manpower, but not for a moment does he lose heart. His motto seems to be, “No matter what life throws at you, keep on pushing on.”
A fierce animal rights activist, he has taken up cudgels on behalf of some of the weakest and most overlooked of god’s creatures – like injured and ill birds of every shape and size. This Avian warrior also does not refuse help to other suffering creatures, great or small – from dogs to donkeys, horses, rabbits, cats, monkeys, bears and even snakes, he tries to do his best for them and also passes them on to those better equipped to handle their care.
Striving relentlessly for resources and facilities to make life bearable for these helpless beings, at the mercy of the whims and fancies of humankind, he has carved out a special niche for himself in the world of NGOs, working for animal welfare. Whereas many NGOs have a lot of corporate and state funding as well as private backing, Abhinav is a one-man army, fighting a lone battle and trying to get crucial funding in an already overcrowded field.
The cause of his feathered friends is not one which is high on the radar of animal lovers as dogs and cats – being domestic pets – get most of the attention. But he doggedly treads his lonely path, in spite of facing resistance from several quarters who do not take kindly to his rescue acts.
His mission in life is to save birds caught in the wild and sold as pets. He is working with many bird traders and wildlife experts in the field so that traders can be educated into willingly releasing exotic birds that are endangered and wild. He has no qualms in firmly stating that birds are his first priority, though they may not be the cuddly, cute face of animal welfare, but he also states that he is always willing to provide first aid and foster care to other animals in need even with the limited resources at his command, though he may not be able to take them all in, on a permanent basis.
Today, Abhinav Srihan’s NGO, Fauna Police, is one of the most active and dynamic animal protection organisations in the Delhi-NCR region. Every year, his NGO saves hundreds of birds and other animals through its helpline. Sick and injured birds are nursed back to health in their aviary.
The nature of bird cases includes birds with manjha (kite-string) cuts, animal bite wounds, paralysis, avian pox and other infectious diseases along with orphaned birds, lost or injured newborn chicks, etc.
So far, they have rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of parakeets, and many wild birds along with birds of prey such as owls and eagles. Recently, a NGO officer even rescued some chickens which were thrown out on the street and later got them adopted. Today, Abhinav is an authority on wildlife, specially wild birds.
One of the focus areas of the organisation is their tireless work to bring an end to illegal trade of wild birds in the country. They believe the problem exists partly because of the ignorance of the general public about the laws protecting different bird species and traditions in keeping certain birds as caged pets.
‘Fauna Police’ works wherever possible to create awareness, so that the demand for birds as pets is reduced. As a result of its extensive work on rescue and rehabilitation of wild birds, the NGO has become a national knowledge bank on the issue. Abhinav Srihan says, “It is up to the general public to stop this nefarious and ecologically damaging activity. If you stop buying birds, especially parrots, as pets, their capture, breeding and cruelty to them will stop too”.
Abhinav’s epic journey began a few years ago when he started to rescue injured birds, that had been sliced open due to flying into the razor-sharp kite-strings that crowd the skies during kite-flying season, and take them to shelters. He was surprised that many shelters did not allow him to see the birds again.
He later came to know that most of the places do not have infrastructure to treat and rehabilitate birds. This inspired him to start an aviary on the rooftop of his home in Sarojini Nagar and this was the first step towards his building the NGO. Over time, Fauna Police developed into an organisation that works towards eradicating illegal, wild bird and animal trade, and helping to save animals from various emergencies; whether man-made or natural.
Fauna Police also responds to emergencies of illegal cattle transport, abandoned pets and injured animals on the street. With the help of the local police, they have brought to book numerous offenders till date. This animal lover has rescued animals from trappers; taught donkey keepers in Nanded not to hurt their animals and treat them well and tried to save caged birds and animals in Lucknow, Kanpur, Punjab and Rajasthan. He has rescued injured or lost cattle along with those being prepared for slaughter (some are killed with sledgehammers or axes).
Abhinav has also helped rescue pigs from slaughter, the most famous being Chandu the pig. He says, “Chandu was saved and brought to Aparna’s farms, which has helped rehabilitate several animals, but otherwise it’s a common practice to slaughter pigs in the name of sacrifice and eat it. We found a loving home to adopt this one but hundreds are still waiting to be rescued.”
Chandu is now happy and healthy at Aparna’s farms and goes around to various schools, meeting children so they can learn that pigs are not just to be bred for slaughter, they’re extremely loving and intelligent animals and can be good pets. Chandu is paying his dues after being rescued, and has become a mascot promoting a plant-based diet, so children become sensitised to senseless killing of animals.
Fauna Police often takes on animals that no one else will touch with a bargepole. Recently, the NGO rescued a horse abandoned on a busy road in Dwarka, in West Delhi, who was blind, starving and terribly scared, as well as an electrocuted monkey with burns all over, which many NGOs refused to pick up.
Besides saving numerous sick dogs such as those suffering from distemper, and ill-treated pets and those forced to mate constantly by inhuman breeders resulting in terrible tumours. It also tries to shut down puppy mills.
The group tries to fight against animal cruelty such as organised dog-fights and bird-fights. Many dogs have infected, deep wounds after being in fights, crawling with maggots, which are extremely difficult to treat, and recover only thanks to the devoted care and constant vigil by Abhinav and his dedicated team of helpers. He also arranges for the spaying and neutering of abandoned pets and strays. He is sometimes supported by various kind-hearted animal welfare organisations but he gets little government help, though he hopes for better.
Recently, one of the videos Abhinav posted on YouTube went viral where he had posted footage of a serial killer systematically going around stabbing and strangling dogs and puppies to death in deserted areas. He along with another NGO offered a reward of one lakh rupees for any information on the violent killer. The footage caused an outcry throughout the country and forced the Delhi Police to spring into action, and they finally arrested this deranged individual in Lucknow.
Abhinav says, “I was fond of birds, dogs, cats and almost every animal right from when I was a child. I was always concerned about their well-being. I’m a vegetarian since birth and became vegan when I witnessed cruelty towards dairy animals, specially during their illegal transportation. After I started growing up I was a regular at some of the animal shelters and I soon realised that there are times that they are just not equipped to handle the number of cases that come to them.
This was the beginning of Fauna Police. I wanted this to be a TV program initially as I am a filmmaker by profession but that did not work out because of bandwidth issues. Instead of a full-fledged TV program, my team and I started making short videos that were regularly featured on India News, through a programme called Pukar.
Along with this we have had a helpline that was started primarily for injured birds and later developed into a full-fledged helpline for other animals as well. We used to make short movie clips that were featured on India News, and were later uploaded on YouTube. We really got inspired by a program called Animal Police on Discovery Channel where a team goes out and rescues animals. We wanted to do something similar, hence our name, Fauna Police.”
Abhinav, in keeping with the name of his NGO, has conducted numerous campaigns to bring perpetrators of animal cruelty to book and to raise social awareness. One of the campaigns by the NGO was carried against some unscrupulous builders illegally taking possession of animal shelters and leaving the animals to fend for themselves.
He also conducted a two-day social experiment in Delhi’s Khan Market area, where he played devil’s advocate by wearing a T-shirt that said “Kill Abandoned Dogs” and asking people to fill out a survey on the same subject. The responses were a mixed bag. Some people came forward and confided that killing abandoned dogs was a great idea. Though many also berated him and said this was the most inhuman thing one could think of.
“This is a common phenomenon we have seen, that people love their pets but will not extend that warmth towards strays. Our aim was to hold a mirror up to the society. But on the whole, there was a collective compassion that came out in people”, Abhinav said. “The other experiment, which is very close to my heart, was done to save parakeets.
In this we wore parakeet costumes and went to a mall. The idea was to educate people against keeping them in cages. We get a lot of injured birds that are victim of kite flying or have spent too much time in cages and can’t fly, so it is difficult to rehabilitate them after treatment. Our aim was to stop this practice”, he added.
Campaigns are just a small part of Abhinav’s mission. He gets numerous calls for help and it is very hard for him to pick and choose as he feels all animals are deserving of help. “We get a lot of calls on our distress helpline, we have had to shut two helplines now due to a funds crunch. We get calls from concerned neighbours who want to rescue a dog from “inhuman pet owners” or breeders.
These animals are rehabilitated in shelters; either in our own foster care or we send them to a shelter nearby. Recently, we have had to shut down a facility in Noida as we can’t manage all on our own, we hope the government will help.”
Abhinav added, “The challenge comes with birds when we rescue them, especially the caged ones, as their flight muscles are not developed properly and they do not know how to find food from nature or fight with other birds to survive. They are kept in aviaries and then, after almost 30 days of rehabilitation they are released. In this time we teach them to hunt food and fend for themselves. We give them a soft release in nature but they always have the option of coming back if they want a home.”
“I request everybody not to indulge in kite flying this July-August, it kills or injures so many birds”, he further added. Some beautiful fledgling birds were handed over to Fauna Police recently by a court order after their rescue by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Department of Wildlife and forests, Delhi Government and People For Animals.
“The first three months were continuous hard work and dedication, thanks to everybody who came forward to help, we were very nervous about their release, in fact we would have preferred a soft release but as they were a total of 91 birds, and it required a huge setup for our kind of release, we had no option but to settle for a hard release, but it was a satisfactory release, everything considered. It’s a hard time now at Fauna Police and despite rise in illegal trade of wild caught Parakeets we are not able do much”, he said.
Among all the success stories, there are always failures and these are the ones which remain etched in Abhinav’s memory. “I remember one case because we could not save the dog even after a lot of effort. We got a call from a patron that there is female Great Dane abandoned in Dhaula Kuan area in Delhi. We reached there as soon as possible and somehow, after a lot of effort, were able to find the dog helplessly lying on a street crossing.
At that time we did not have a pet ambulance, and after many requests from passersby, we took her to a nearby shelter but she could not make it. She had been hit by something hard and had bruises on her leg and nose. It was very disheartening.”
One of the key areas Abhinav needs help with is raising funds. “Most of the funds come from our own savings. We get donations but it is nothing that comes regularly. There are some people who recognise our good work and donate but it is not regular. Honestly, fundraising requires a lot of effort and we are busy with our other endeavors too and have not been able to concentrate on this front yet. But any kind of help and support is most welcome.”
Abhinav also wants to convey an important message to the public. “I just want to say one thing, that it is very important to have responsible ownership. If you cannot keep a pet then it is better not to buy it on a whim and then later to abandon it. Fauna Police is not into pet adoption per se and we only help other individuals and organisations in adoption of pets.
There have been complaints about rejection of interested parents, longer stay with foster parents, adoption charges, etc. Here we would like to clarify that our NGO is only helping animal welfare people in their cause and do not interfere with their decisions.
We don’t have many shelters for sick and abandoned dogs and our main concentration remains on birds and other wildlife who are in need of our help, the most. We do take care of cruelty cases and emergency situations, but please do not depend only on us for such situations, we do whatever we can with our limited resources, we are doing many things at a time. If you have capable NGOs nearby, seek their help. We can all work together.”
So who will stand up for this lone warrior?