“Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.”
-Roger Tory Peterson
In this materialistic world of today, it is difficult to find people who would help strangers in need or those who can do them no good. It is my privilege to present two youth from Delhi who stand out of the crowd .Their love and compassion for birds has earned them a unique place in society. An incident which occurred in 2003, proved to be the turning point of their life. One day they found an injured black kite on their terrace. Out of compassion, they picked it up, and took it to the Jain Bird Hospital in Chandni Chowk for treatment. Unfortunately, since the bird hospital was in a temple, they refused to treat the injured carnivorous bird. So, the brothers managed to arrange ‘home visits ‘of the veterinarian, and finally released the black kite after it fully recovered.
Since that day of treating the lone kite, they have sheltered, treated and looked after many birds such as owls, eagles, kites, hawks and the occasional endangered vulture. Even without any formal training, they have learned to fix bones using steel wires, stitch wounds using absorbable thread, perform complicated surgeries, and even prescribe medicines simply by observing veterinarians over the years.
Their mission evolved out of a need for veterinary care for birds of prey and watching them die on the streets, uncared for. Today, Nadeem Shehzad (38) and Mohammad Saud (34) have saved more than 5000 predatory birds. They have become experts on avian surgeries and run a rooftop hospital at their residence! Since more than a decade now, they have been saving birds of prey on their rooftop-turned-shelter in Chawri Bazaar, old Delhi. They run a 24-hour bird rescue organization that provides medical treatment and shelter to predatory birds.
“Not only are these birds being deprived of their natural habitat and diet by the advances of urbanisation, they’re being severely endangered by the practice of using glass-coated string (manjha) to fly kites,” says Saud. “And the new Chinese, metal-coated plastic thread that kite-lovers use these days slices through their bodies like a knife.”
Funds are a major concern for the brothers, as they are facing loses in their business and their professional lives are coming to an end, because of their involvement with bird conservation. It has been more than a decade, but still, 95% of the expenses in their rescue efforts go out of their own pockets. “With our experience, we discovered that veterinarians did not have the required knowledge about birds, so we did not have anyone to go to and look up for help. Either we had to perform surgeries on the wounded bird ourselves or watch it die. This made us experts in avian orthopedic surgery” said Nadeem.
Interestingly, without being veterinarians professionally, they have managed to learn how to treat the birds through books and consulting doctors. They run a family business of making metallic soap dispensers and fountain nozzles. Their love for the winged creatures makes them draw money from their business earnings for this noble cause. Today, many wildlife organizations call them for help every day! They can operate on the birds, stitch their wounds and heal them. With almost no monetary support, their motorcycle operates as an ambulance and the rooftop of their home as their ‘little hospital’. They have already registered for a bird rescue organization, “Wildlife Rescue”, and have launched 24X7 bird rescue helplines.
Soon, the two began questioning the existing protocol for treating bird injuries in India. “Veterinarians often do not attempt to suture bird wounds, as they are so minute. But this invariably renders the healed bird unable to fly. Their ‘kabootarbaaz’ neighbour has always stitched broken wings with regular needle and thread with good results. “So we researched international protocols, and began stitching broken wings with soluble sutures,” explains Saud who does most of the surgeries in Wildlife Rescue today. With a success rate of about 80 per cent, the brothers receive injured birds rescued by different NGOs and Wildlife SOS.
Wildlife Rescue’s 24-hour helpline receives at least 15 calls a day, and children in Wazirabad village where they now have a larger rescue centre, routinely bring in not just birds, but also other animals. Shahzad has remained Delhi’s honorary wildlife warden for three years and was appointed special officer of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau in 2013. The brothers also received awards from animal conservation organisations, India for Animals and Nature Forever Society in 2014. Interestingly the rooftop facility can rightly boast of almost a hundred kites, eagles, vultures and owls that are in different stages of recovering. Some have bandages on, labeled with dates. Saud shows neatly stitched wings and cuts on several of his patients. “They’ll soon be able to fly,” says he, stroking them gently. Then he soberly picks up a vulture with a broken wing. “It came too late for us to repair the wing,” says Saud, “I’ll have to amputate it today.” They have started doing bone implants and also want to also learn micro-surgery, which will minimize the need for amputation. In the basement, a nursery of frisky egret chicks is ensconced in cartons. “They were orphaned when the tree that housed their nests was cut down in Gurgaon. Over 80 chicks died before they could be rescued; merely 20 remain.
Raising money is a major hurdle in their efforts and for them; the need of the hour is to make their organization self-sustaining, so it keeps on functioning without their help. They believe that with no facility for birds of prey, it is their moral responsibility to do something for these birds. “The fact that these birds will end up with a slow painful death, without our help as they have nowhere to go, and no one to take care of them,” keeps us going. “We want to start a proper rescue center with international standards” adds Saud
Maintaining the avian hospital, costs about Rs 35,000 per month, mostly for food and medicines. The brothers also employ a person to attend to rescue calls on the helpline. Although they still haven’t received any aid, the two brothers dream of setting up a full-fledged bird hospital of international standards by diverting funds from their jointly-run family business of manufacturing bathroom fixtures. The next morning, unfortunately the vulture didn’t survive the surgery. Instead of feeling disheartened at the failure, an optimistic Shahzad, says, “It is an act of faith to ease the last days of even a half-dead vulture with a broken wing.”
Their work has been covered by some national and international media, and they were recently awarded the Wipro-NFS Sparrow Award. They were quite amused on receiving the Sparrow Award “since they work on sparrow hawks that eat sparrows”, they joked.