Thousands of birds, some endangered species included, are injured and maimed every year during kite flying festivals across India. This is the story of one man and his NGO, who are fighting to rescue and rehabilitate the helpless creatures and spread the message of compassion.
It was Jaipur’s famous kite flying festival, Makar Sakranti, in 2006. An injured bird fell right in front of 34-year-old Rohit Gangwal. He picked it up to take it to the bird shelter but it was too late. The bird died in his hands.
This incident troubled Rohit so much that he got a few friends together and started an organization to rescue injured birds every January, the month in which the kite flying festival is celebrated.
“Every year, thousands of bird die due to the sharp threads people use to fly kites in the sky during this festival. I thought this is the time when immediate intervention is required,” says Rohit.
Rohit and his friends would go out on the roads to look for birds that had fallen. They would give them treatment and food, and as they got better, release them where they found them.
Gradually, his work was noticed by others and he started receiving emergency calls for bird rescue around the year.
So Rohit decided to form an NGO, Raksha, to rescue and rehabilitate injured birds and reptiles. Today, the Raksha team rescues two or three birds every day. Rohit now has a team of about 50 volunteers who work with Raksha for free.
What do they do?
Raksha’s core work is to rescue and rehabilitate injured birds. The volunteers are first trained using a dummy bird before they actually go on a rescue operation. After a few weeks of training, the volunteers know how to provide basic medication and treatment to a rescued bird.
“In some cases the bird is too small to feed itself so we feed it till it is big enough. After a few weeks, when the bird starts feeding itself and is healthy enough, we release it at the location from where we first rescued it,” says Rohit.
Raksha does not just provide medical intervention. The birds are prepared to deal with the ‘outside world’ during the time they are healing.
“Our team keeps their food at different locations and they have to find it. Once we release them out in the world, they’ll have to find food for themselves. This is like a training for them,” says Rohit.
The seriously injured birds that will take a long time to heal are kept in a ‘bird orphanage’ and looked after regularly by the volunteers.
Raksha also has a 24×7 helpline, which enables people to report injured bird cases.
This NGO’s work is not just restricted to rescuing birds; they also rescue reptiles (mostly snakes). With help from a team of experts, Raksha has been actively rescuing and rehabilitating snakes from residential homes, school buildings, and other such urban locations.
“If a reptile is hurt we bring it to our orphanage but release it after 24 hours because it is illegal to keep it beyond that time,” says Rohit.
The law in India says that keeping snakes in captivity and their display in public is prohibited under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and is an illegal activity.
Going the extra mile
The good Samaritans at Raksha also spread awareness about compassion towards birds and other animals among children. They go from school to school to talk about how students and teachers can help injured birds and how they should be more considerate towards the feathered species by not flying kites. They provide the children with bird feeders and water bowls to encourage them to love and care for birds.
The Raksha team has also organised snake bite management training programmes for those who are exposed to the risk of snake bites. “The event is focused on security guards, engineers, and other people who work in high exposure areas,” says Rohit.
Today, the Raksha team rescues and rehabilitates over 500 birds every year. They have also helped change the mindset of hundreds of school children towards birds, teaching them compassion and training them to give basic medical treatment to injured birds.
Manan Tholia, a volunteer at Raksha, recalls an incident from when he went to a school to spread awareness about this cause. The session inspired the kids of the school so much that they managed to rescue an injured bird the next day.
“An injured bird fell in one of the classes. Maybe it came in the class accidentally and hit the fan, or maybe it was attacked by some other bird and entered the classroom. The students made a small nest for the bird, fed it and took care of it for a day. And when the condition of the bird did not improve, they called our helpline. We went to the site and rescued the bird. It was because of our session that the kids felt the need to help the bird, otherwise mostly people do not know what to do in such cases,” says Manan.
Though Raksha has been catering to the needs of injured birds for nine years now, they still struggle to find good volunteers who can give enough time to the cause. The organization runs on donations in kind, where they get medicines, bird food and other necessary material. They also get some monetary support from individual donors.
“We want to expand more, reach other cities and address more cases,” says Rohit. Thanks to Raksha, hundreds of birds that are injured every year now have someone to look after them.
You can learn more about Raksha by visiting this website.