Written by: Neetha Ann Dooy, Batch: 2019-2022, CMS College, Kottayam, Kerala
India is known for its rich biodiversity. We have it all. Flora, Fauna, you name it. But this lush biodiversity is under serious threat dāue to inhuman activities. We poach, mine and kill our own diversity.
Our actions have a hugely detrimental effect on our surrounding species. All our flora and fauna are at the tipping point of suffering. Overpopulation has led to severe habitat encroachment, thereby destroying several wildlife safe havens. Add to it our fetish for illegally trading, poaching and killing wildlife. This is what 'Wildlife SOS' aims to put an absolute end to.
Started in 1995, the organization works to 'conserve and protect India's natural heritage, forest and wildlife wealth'. The organization also works to educate the public about habitat conservation as well as the nuances of peaceful coexistence in regions where man-animal conflict is disproportionately high.
Wildlife SOS also takes action against cruelty directed at animals and rescues animals in distress. The organization works in close association with erstwhile poacher communities as well as tribes who depend on wildlife for sustenance.
Wildlife SOS is primarily known for its rescue operations involving the infamous 'Dancing Bears'. The Indian Sloth Bears aka Dancing Bears have faced unspeakable cruelty for over four centuries. The Kalandars, a nomadic tribe perpetuated this inhuman practice.
A burning hot poker rod is pierced into the muzzle of bear cubs, as young as six months old. Then a rope is inserted through the piercing and tugged at. This makes the helpless bears jump in agony, which we sadistically enjoy as a dance. What the dancing bears go through is a life full of agony at the hands of their captors.
The rescue operations of the organization have brought about an end to this gruesome ritual of dancing bears. The awareness classes they carried out have equally benefited the ignorant perpetrators as well as the audience of this deadly practice. In December 2009, Wildlife SOS rescued what it believes is the last dancing bear in India.
Though mainly known for its work with the Dancing Bears, Wildlife SOS also works with a whole lot of other animals. Their key focus is also on:
● Moon Bears (Himalayan Black Bears)
The work Wildlife SOS does is multifaceted and can be grouped into the following heads:
1. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation
The organization is actively involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of distressed animals, both in the urban and rural environments. Wildlife SOS has formal cooperative agreements in place with the state governments and forest departments of more than nine states in India, including Jammu & Kashmir.
The rescued animals, if injured, are given necessary treatments and released back into their own natural habitats. If this is not possible, the animals are cared for in one of the organization's many rescue facilities.
Similar to its work with the Dancing Bears, Wildlife SOS also rescues performing elephants. The organization is also diligent about reducing its carbon footprint.
The anti-poaching wing of Wildlife SOS, 'Forest Watch', is methodically involved in exposing criminals involved in illegal wildlife trade and trafficking. According to their website, about $8-$10 billion is generated annually through illegal wildlife trade and trafficking!!
The organization has conducted grass-roots level training programs for forest officials in many states to assist with capacity building as well as the prevention of wildlife crimes.
3. Conservation Awareness
Wildlife SOS regularly conducts awareness campaigns as well as exhibitions to educate the masses about the needs and ways of wildlife conservation. The organization actively seeks the involvement of local communities, especially students and college-going youth.
The Awareness classes also teach the audience about the necessary techniques to avoid man-animal conflicts. It also focuses on sustainable living in areas where wildlife concentration is critical.
Special classes are also conducted for forest officials as well as law officials informing them about 'wildlife trade, recognition of contra-band, simple knowledge of the law in the fields, conflict management and rescue techniques to mitigate man-animal conflicts'.
4. Habitat Protection
Wildlife SOS works in close association with local communities in the protection of biodiversity hotspots. One of the major habitat renovation projects of the organization was carried out near Ram Durga Valley in Koppal, Karnataka.
This area near the Ram Durga Village was a safe haven for a wide range of species like the leopards, pangolins, tortoises, and wolves. However, the area came under severe threat due to illegal mining, deforestation as well as ritual hunting by local communities.
Recognizing the need to conserve this withering hotspot, Wildlife SOS purchased about 50 acres of land near Ram Durga Village. The organization aimed at creating a safe buffer zone for the animals by linking up the purchased area with a Reserve Forest Patch.
Appropriate saplings were selected and nearly 10,000 planted in the chosen land. In addition to this, a drip irrigation system was set up and a bore well was dugout. Solar-powered electrical fencing was also established to cordon off the area from illegal activities.
Within 2-3 years, the project started showing positive results. The saplings all grew into healthy plants and trees. The concentration of wildlife in the area too showed a considerable increase.
Wildlife SOS recognizes the importance of education in helping communities break away from cyclical poverty and ignorance. Take for example, the Kalandars. They perpetuated the cruel ritual of Dancing Bears out of sheer ignorance and abject poverty.
The organization funds the formal education of over 1,350 Kalandar children. It assists in paying their school fees, buying books and stationery, providing school bags and uniforms and several such myriad educational needs.
Also, quality education leads to better living standards. The dropout rate among the Kalandar students has plummeted with the intervention of the organization. More than 50% of the enrolled students are girls. This has also led to a decrease in the child marriage rates within the Kalandar Community.
6. Women Empowerment
Financial Independence is one of the major objectives of women empowerment. Women everywhere in the world are under constant pressure to be confined within the four fuming walls. And women of impoverished communities are living in practical hell all their lives.
Wildlife SOS provides vocational training to the women of the Kalandar Community, allowing them to be secondary breadwinners within the family. Seed funds and extensive technical support are then provided to flag off their micro ventures. Embroidery, Stitching, Stone Polishing, Bag making are some of the ventures in which the women are trained.
The organization also helps in the formation of Self-Help Groups(SHGs), to further increase the dignity of the Kalandar women. The SHGs act as a support system, enabling the women to fund their own ventures as well as help other women.
7. Livelihood Assistance
The Kalandar men have for ages, earned a living by dancing helpless bears. Once the men were educated about the damage they were inflicting, the question of an alternative beneficial livelihood propped up.
Like the Kalandar women, men too are given training in various vocational courses. Gem cutting and polishing, carpet weaving, powdering & packaging of spices, farming, poultry rearing are some examples of the skills the men are imparted with. They also help the men to learn to drive vehicles and equip them with proper driving documents so that they can seek employment in such a growing field.
The men are assisted with seed funds to start their ventures. The organization also assists the men by purchasing for them handcarts, setting up small shops or equipping them with bicycles to sell goods in rural areas. The organization also provides a rehab package for the Kalandar families. To date, over 600 Kalandar families have surrendered their bear cubs and signed up for the rehabilitation package.
Wildlife SOS is one of the top-rated Non-profits in India. The work the organization does has lasting and positive effects across a wide spectrum of recipients. Along with conserving wildlife, the organization ensures that many impoverished human communities are brought to the forefront of our society.
In this busy world, where we have barely enough time to look after our own needs, the people who run Wildlife SOS truly stands out. I am amazed by their dedication and selflessness. They also make me reinforce my belief in the goodness and empathy of the human heart. A Big Salute to the Wildlife SOS Team!!