From lions and tigers to chimpanzees and elephants, Chennai-based Antony Rubin has led many important animal rescue missions across Tamil Nadu. He shares why he began this work, and how he keeps going.
Antony Rubin, though the founder of a web development company by profession, is a passionate animal rescuer at heart.
The 37-year-old, who hails from Chennai, has worked towards animal welfare since 2000. He also holds a postgraduate diploma in the subject.
He says that from around the time he was 17, he would take pity on seeing overloaded bullock carts. He and his friends would offload the heavy material and remove the whips attached to the animals.
“From a young age, I couldn’t stand to see animals in pain. Rescue work brought me satisfaction,” he says.
The incident that got Antony interested in animal rescue:
Young Antony was always on the lookout for creatures in pain and in need of rescue. So when he spotted a horse in a pathetic state while on a beach one day, he acted immediately.
“The horse had been used for joy rides on the beach, and the constant walking had left it in a deplorable condition, with its legs swollen. We arranged for an ambulance to take it to a veterinary hospital,” he says.
But unfortunately, the horse dropped dead before it could get to the hospital. This tragic incident left a mark on Antony, who decided to take up animal rescue work in his free time on a much larger scale.
Since then, he has been into rescue work for dogs, horses, chimpanzees and even lions, among other animals.
The chimpanzee affair
“I’ll let you in on the chimpanzee rescue operation,” says Antony, explaining that it all began when he got to know from his sources about a well-known circus in Tamil Nadu, where four chimpanzees were performing.
Among them was Lakshmi, who had been riding a bicycle on a thin rope to entertain the crowds, and was left injured during the act. “When we saw her, she was paralysed, had bed sores, and couldn’t move,” says Antony, adding that her small cage restricted her movements and made matters worse.
With his team, he filed a complaint with the police and arranged a setup to rescue the chimps and take them to safety. However, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
Owing to the size of the chimps, only two could be taken in the caravan at a time. Lakshmi’s mother and cousin were taken on the first trip. “We’d planned to return and take Guru (her son) on the second trip, but he was aggressive. He did not feel safe without his family present. So we had to bring the other two chimps back to the circus, and take the three back to the rescue centre together.”
He recounts, “The entire operation took 72 hours and was overseen by 300 police.”
As for Lakshmi, she was taken in an ambulance to a nearby rescue centre, where her injuries were tended to.
For Antony, it is the happiness of the animal on being rescued that makes all the difference.
“Months later, on Lakshmi’s birthday, I went to the rescue centre to see how she was doing. The chain on her neck was still there as it was feared she would get aggressive once it was removed and she was free.”
With the permission of the guards there, Antony began to remove the chain, as ‘Happy Birthday’ was being sung for the chimp. He says, “I knew either of two things could happen — Lakshmi would either get violent after so many years of being held captive, or she would be immensely happy at the freedom.”
What came next melted Antony’s heart — Lakshmi smiled brightly and kept a hand on Antony.
But as heartwarming as these moments may be, he also comes across many terrifying incidents.
The poacher who was selling a panther
“Sometimes, I get to know about an animal that needs rescuing, but when I dive deep into the case, the scene gets murkier and it leads to something I don’t expect,” he says.
One such incident was when, on his rounds in Chennai, he spotted a Malabar squirrel.
“I knew for a fact that this was not a likely habitat where one would see a giant squirrel, and started tracking down where it had come from. I landed on a house near a prominent university in Chennai.”
Things got more suspicious when the homeowners — when questioned — said they purchased the giant squirrel from a man who apparently had a menu card of animals that had been poached.
Pretending to be a buyer, Antony managed to track him down and was offered a panther for Rs 22,000.
In an attempt to put an end to his game, Antony played along and set up bait with the police involved. The story ended with the poacher being put behind bars.
The instances of animal cruelty are many, as Antony says.
The pride of lions
Antony was well aware that the Government of India has banned the use of lions in circuses. So when he got to know about a certain place that was hiding lions for a circus, and keeping them in rusted cages with little to no maintenance, he was bent on getting to the bottom of the story.
“My investigation led me to a district in Tamil Nadu, where I traced the laundry shop near which there were a couple of cages,” he says, adding that it was an area with plenty of local shops nearby, all without a clue that just metres from them, there were these four ferocious wild beasts.
“When I saw the way the lions were kept, I was fearful about how long it was until they broke free,” he adds, recalling how there was no one to feed the beasts and they were given only daal and rice.
In an attempt to put an end to this, Antony then went to the cops, but they refused to do anything, claiming it was a court matter and they couldn’t get involved.
“But I knew my plea would be heard by the media.”
So, Antony took photos of the cages and returned to Chennai, where he shared them with the media and spoke about why the situation was dangerous.
The next day, citizens and politicians of Tamil Nadu woke up to the horrific news of the lions being in such close proximity to residential spaces, and it was ordered that the lions be immediately transferred to the rescue centre.
“When I went to the centre later to see the animals, the lion wanted to nuzzle against me through the mesh,” he recounts. “It was behaving like a small cat.”
But doesn’t he ever feel scared?
“When you are doing good, there is a kind of protection around you,” says Antony. “Even in the scariest of circumstances, I feel there is a force that surrounds me.”
He recounts how people have threatened him, as he often rescues cattle from being illegally slaughtered. But at the end of the day, Antony feels he is doing his bit to help voiceless animals.
While he doesn’t keep a count of the number of animals he rescues, he says there have been 85 horses and 18 lions among these.
Along with field rescues, Antony has also started getting involved in policy frameworks for the animals. “I advocate for acts to be introduced for animal safety, laws against cruelty. I also file animal abuse cases.”
In May 2022, Antony was made a member of the State Wildlife Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu.
“What we have to understand is we share the same planet,” he says, explaining why he is so passionate about animals and their rights. “Animals never want to harm us, but with us taking over their land, they are forced to survive in whatever way they can. We need to step up for change.”