On a wing and a prayer: PfA pulls all stops to save little Hanuman — and monsoon battered birds of Bengaluru

The People for Animals has recently rescued six rare birds and a newborn bonnet macaque with a congenital health condition.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Jun 25, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdatedJun 25, 2023 | 12:00 PM

White-Throated Kingfisher being treated at the PfA

Only the fittest survive, the mother knew. It abandoned the baby at birth.

A male, perhaps the father, carried and cared for the little one. Two days later, he too abandoned the infant in the bushes at Krishnarajapuram — or KR Puram — in East Bengaluru. The male then left along with his troop of other monkeys.

The little monkey remained in the bushes, ignorant of the vagaries of life that had left him alone. However, Lady Luck was watching over the infant.

A local resident, who had been watching the troop, found the infant in the bushes. What caught his attention was an anomaly — an abnormal growth covering its right eye. He knew that the monkey would not survive without timely assistance.

He took pictures and videos of the infant and contacted People for Animals (PfA), a non-governmental animal welfare organisation founded by Maneka Gandhi in 1992. It has a nationwide network of 26 veterinary hospitals, one of them in Bengaluru.

A PfA team rushed to the scene and rescued the little bonnet macaque, and took it back with them.

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Fingers crossed

Chief Veterinarian Colonel (Retd) Dr Navaz Sharif loves challenges — and all creatures great and small. He accepted the challenge the PfA team had picked up at KR Puram.

Chief Veterinarian, Colonel Dr Navaz Sharif feeding 'Hanuman' with milk

Chief Veterinarian, Colonel (Retd) Dr Navaz Sharif feeding ‘Hanuman’ . (Supplied)

At first look itself, he understood why the troop had left the infant behind.

“This baby monkey has a congenital anomaly called Encephalocele — a sac-like protrusion or projection of the brain from the cranium. It was huge for a newborn monkey,” he told South First.

The PfA team has named him Hanuman, after the immortal monkey god. After all, Hanuman attained immortality after making an Icarus-like leap towards the rising sun, and as one version has it, was hit by Indra’s vajrayudha, the invincible thunderbolt.

Dr Sharif, too, is hoping for the best. “It’s in an incubator with an oxygen tent. Its condition is not that good,” he said.

The surgeon knew that he was facing a rare situation. He went through decades-old medical journals and found one case — just one — reported 16 years ago in the US.

It spoke of a native species of monkey with the same condition.

“In that case too, the mother had abandoned the baby and the father carried it for three days. Then the entire troop deserted it. However, there was no reference to any treatment provided to that animal,” Dr Sharif said.

The PfA team now has its fingers crossed. They hope that they could release a healthy Hanuman, free of anomalies, one day.

Also read: Leopard that attacked 3-year-old boy in Tirumala captured

Monsoon blues

The Southwest Monsoon has set in over Karnataka, and the frequency of calls to PfA has increased.

Torrential showers accompanied by strong winds dislodge nests along with nestlings. Some are even swept from their nests, and their mothers’ attempt to teach them to take flight often fails.

It is an oft noticed scene in Bengaluru, the City of Gardens.

The nestlings — often bald — frantically chirps at the equally “screaming” parent swooping down and flying over them, hoping to somehow get back to the comfort of their nests and under their mother’s warm wings. The hope is mostly misplaced, unless a Good Samaritan steps in.

“The season sees heavy rains, thunderstorms, and strong winds that the nests cannot withstand. This is the time when nestlings and fledglings get dislodged from their nests,” urban wildlife rescuer Anand told South First.

Hrishikesh Gangoor is 15. He had been watching a bird’s nest on a tree close to his flat’s balcony at RR Nagar, in the western suburbs of Bengaluru.

He used to click photographs of the parent birds that he had identified as white-browed wagtails. He also knew the birds were proud parents of two nestlings.

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A fight to soar

Recently, while returning home from school, he noticed the parent bird trying to teach one of the nestlings to fly. The fledgling would try to fly up to two to three feet above the ground and then land back.

White-Browed Wagtail bird

White-browed wagtail. (Supplied)

It was then that Gangoor realised that the little one had fallen off the nest. The mature bird was hovering over it. The boy picked up the fledgling, somehow managed to put it back in its home from his balcony.

His happiness did not last long. The next day, he found another nestling on the ground, injured and unable even to walk. The parent bird, too, looked like as of it was not interested in the little bird.

Gangoor picked up the fledgling, put it in a box, and dialled the PfA. Rescuer Anand soon arrived at the scene and took the bird to the hospital.

Around the same time, the PfA rescued another white-browed wagtail fledgling from Jayanagar.

“As it was not injured, the bird was initially fed worms before being shifted to a bigger enclosure, preparing it for release. It was released soon after,” Dr Sharif said, adding that “the fledgling rescued by Gangoor is still under care and treatment for its leg injury”.

Also read: Abandoned tiger cubs shifted to Tirupati animal rescue centre

Snakes too count!

Injured snakes and other urban wild creatures, too, were rescued and treated at the PfA. Amphibians such as terrapins, turtles, and tortoises, too, frequent the hospital.

Rufous Treepie bird

Rufous Treepie. (Supplied)

Since its inception, PfA has rescued, rehabilitated, and released over 30,000 reptiles, animals, and birds.

Preetha Radhakrishna, a teacher working for an NGO, lives at Basavanagar in Bengaluru. She has a garden at her villa where her security guard once found two nestlings on the lawn.

It looked like the little the birds were abandoned by their parents. As there were several cats around the villas, the security guard thought it would be safe to keep the two nestlings on the terrace of Preetha’s house.

Preetha was not at home then. When she arrived, the guard promptly informed her about the two nestlings which her birdwatcher husband identified as rufous treepies. They kept the nestlings in a cage and fed them millet, water, and banana before contacting the PfA.

“As the monsoon sets in, fledglings tend to leave their nests and they fall off due to heavy winds,” Preetha Radhakrishna told South First.

The next morning, a bird rescuer arrived and took the two nestlings to the PfA. “The nestlings were initially fed and also trained to eat on their own. They have since grown and were transferred to a bigger enclosure,” Dr Sharif said.

“Their diet now consists of chicken and fruit, in addition to worms. The birds are currently under rehabilitation, and will be released to the urban wild once they are strong enough to survive on their own,” he added.

Kingfishers in a basket

In May, the PfA received a call from Vittal Nagar. On rushing in, they found three white-throated kingfisher fledglings that had fallen off their nest. They were rescued in a basket and placed in a small enclosure under observation.

White-Throated Kingfishers being fed with water

White-throated Kingfishers being fed at the PfA hospital. (Supplied)

“The team took care of the fledglings by hand-feeding the baby birds with fish and worms. Soon after the team noticed that the baby birds’ could eat on their own, they were transferred to a bigger enclosure, so that they could practice flying,” Dr Sharif said.

The birds soon showed much improvement and were deemed fit for release into the skies over the Turahalli forest.

White-throated Kingfisher is a rare urban bird with vibrant plumage, exceptional hunting skills, and captivating calls. Its head, back, and wings are a rich shade of bright blue, which contrasts beautifully with its rufous-brown chest.