Shad’s big adventure (part 4)

When you go into the woods next time, walk deep into the thicket then stand perfectly still and you might hear the sound of a bird chirping its daily news to a friend in another tree or the snap of a twig trodden on by a deer as it munches through leaves and acorns.  John and I have often wandered through the local woodlands which form part of the South Downs in Sussex and heard the birds sing and the rustle of the wind blowing through the trees.  Standing in the woods many hundreds of years ago we would have heard the grunts and tail slaps of a family of beavers, the barking howls of a pack of wolves or the hissing and chattering of a Eurasian lynx cat.  Sadly due to the intensification of agriculture and human hunting activities many the UK’s indigenous wild mammal populations such as wolves, brown bears, lynx and beavers are now extinct.  This is why I get so excited about the wildlife that still exists in the woods today like the badgers, foxes, otters, rabbits, wood lice, harvest mice, wagtails, buzzards and tawny owls who rely on each other in complex ways and need our protection to survive.

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In India the forest surrounding the Agra Bear Rescue Facility managed by Wildlife SOS is alive with squawks, tweets, clicks, growls, wails, screeches and squeaks from the enormous variety of animals that live there.  Their bizarre noises reminded me of those made by tennis players during the Wimbledon finals!   The sloth bears that live at the centre have all been rescued from a nomadic tribe called the Kalandar people who traditionally used them as ‘dancing bears’ for hundreds of years.  This brutal practice involves poaching the cubs from the wild (usually killing the mother), piercing their soft sensitive muzzles with a hot poker and pushing a rope through it which is tugged in order to force them to jump up and down in pain for the entertainment of onlookers.  Hard to believe isn’t it?!

Life at the end of a rope was all these bears knew and many can be seen rocking, pacing and swaying, demonstrating stress behaviours seen in large mammals that have been taken captive and held in poor conditions.  The good news is that Wildlife SOS are doing an excellent job of providing veterinary care to heal their physical wounds and a stimulating natural environment to heal their emotional wounds, and they’ll never have to endure such cruelty again.  To help the bears, Wildlife SOS keepers have installed pools in every enclosure for splashing and general merriment and frames and trees for climbing.  There are also daily enrichment activities such as foraging for their favourite fruits in boxes or feeders and munching on a honey and ant bar.  Nice!

There is plenty of love to go around at Wildlife SOS and all orphaned, abandoned or injured animals are welcomed with open arms, just like the hyena that wandered innocently into a village looking for food and was attacked by the ignorant villagers or the baby deer who lost her mum in a forest fire.  The wild monkeys who live in the trees often steal leftover melons from the sloth bears that are too busy rolling around in the grass to notice, and a blind parakeet that obviously could not survive in the wild lives happily in the office and is taken outside daily for some fresh air.  Wildlife SOS is a sanctuary for many beautiful lives that would otherwise have been lost and their dedication to the environment goes some way towards undoing the damage done by humans who exploit and persecute animals in the name of entertainment, religion or profit.  You can help too by never paying to watch, ride or pet wild animals used in the tourist industry because if you saw the terrible events that occur behind the scenes you would be shocked to the core.

Shad’s big adventure (part 1)

Its nose is much longer and stronger than mine although mine is better at picking up scent, its ears are much bigger and flappier than mine although mine can swivel, and its tail is much lengthier and bristlier than mine although mine can puff up when I’m startled.  You’d be hard pushed to find any similarities between my furry feline form and the gracious grey bulk of an elephant, but my fascination with these gentle giants from the elephantidae family go back a long way.  It could be the delicate balance of strength and gentility that intrigues me, or the emotional intelligence and supportive social activities of the herd that is so beguiling.  To satisfy my elephant infatuation, I watch nature documentaries on the television with John and I follow the stories of the Asian elephants rescued by the animal welfare charity Wildlife SOS in India.

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Most recently the story of Rhea, a 53 year old circus elephant kept chained to one concrete spot unless she was performing unnatural tricks for her ignorant audience.  Rhea lived with 2 other elephants called Mia and Sita for decades and would have formed strong emotional bonds with these elephants while they were trapped together in those miserable conditions.  Mia and Sita were rescued in November last year by Wildlife SOS and taken to their Elephant Care and Conservation Centre in Mathura near New Delhi but due to legal complications, Rhea was left behind.  Alone for 5 months without her best friends she must have doubted she would ever see them again but Wildlife SOS worked tirelessly and never forgot the promise they made to her to return and secure her freedom.  Finally in April the elephant ambulance made the 350km trip back to Tamil Nadu to rescue Rhea and reunite her with her companions.  I remember watching the video of that magical moment when she saw her ‘sisters’ again, their heads came slowly together and their trunks intertwined, eyes twinkling with delight.  The 3 elephants in these pictures are Mia, Sita and Rhea and they enjoy spending every moment of their days together as they recover from their years of sorrow and pain, deprived of food and water and beaten into submission.  Now they have shade and sand, food and veterinary care, and their own private paddling pool.

Most of the elephants at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care Centre are taken for long walks every day by their keepers where they can be free to explore their surroundings and experience soft earth under their feet often for the first time in years.  Unfortunately most of the elephants have painful foot conditions that require daily treatment because of the abnormal lives they endured before.  Rhea would have spent years on her feet never being allowed to lay down which might be why I love to look at the picture of her laying by her sand pile with her 2 friends Mia and Sita beside her, able to relax and take a snooze for the first time in decades.  She snores by the way!

Looking after the elephants is hard work – preparing 25 kg of fruit and 100 kg of fodder per elephant per day takes an awful lot of chopping, bundling and carting around.  The keepers also hoist bunches of fodder up to the rafters to mimic the trees and the elephants love to stretch their trunks high to grab the juiciest bits.  Phoolkali puts the huge reeds of grass into her mouth with her trunk and strips the leaves off which she chews happily while she discards the tough stem.  She also enjoys sugar cane treats along with her walking buddy Asha who also loves peanuts.  Talking of peanuts, 6 year old Peanut (seen here with her devoted keeper) is the youngest elephant to be rescued by Wildlife SOS also from a circus, although many of the elephants were liberated from desperate lives as begging elephants or tourist attractions, being ridden by holidaymakers who clearly had no idea of the monstrous treatment an elephant receives in order to become compliant.  Now these magnificent and forgiving animals have a chance to be who they are, to get wet every day and flick sand on their backs and bellies, to chomp on thirst-quenching fruit and snuggle with their friends.