For Creatures Great and Small

As trustee and founder of People for Animals, Alpana Bhartia has gone off the beaten path in her effort to protect the environment. She speaks to SEEMA about her journey with all things organic and conservation.

Flash Back

She was born in Kolkata, into a Rajasthani family where traditionally the women were not encouraged to go out to work. But Bhartia’s mother and aunts ran small entrepreneurial businesses from their homes and garages. One of her aunts was a frontline social worker with Mother Teresa and Bhartia’s father always encouraged her to pursue various hobbies. It helped that she schooled at La Martinière for Girls, a progressive institute that nurtured its students’ talents. She did not finish college, though, because she got married early and moved to Bangalore with her husband Alok Bhartia.

“What the lack of [a degree] did give me was curiosity and a confidence to solve problems using simple common sense,” she says. “It made me self-study subjects like our environment, nature, organic farming and wildlife. I was not restricted by my narrow field of college studies.”

Animal Connections

It was her friend Namrata Dugar asking her if she would join Maneka Gandhi, the Indian politician and animal rights activist, who used to then broadcast a TV show called “Heads and Tails” on animal issues, that led Bhartia to start the Bangalore chapter of People for Animals in 1996. To focus on wildlife in the city, she leased a six-acre plot of land on the city outskirts that became the PfA Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Centre.” Bangalore has a huge variety of wildlife in its urban greens, but rapid urbanization has negatively impacted both flora and fauna.

Her mind expanded by self-study, Bhartia has worked on some original methods to address animal injury. She lists some of them:

“Extensive use of the laser physiotherapy unit, which facilitates speedier recovery in spinally injured animals and [in cases of] acute pain. Incubators for neonates and critically ill animals. Acupuncture, homeopathy and water therapy to aid faster recovery.” The hospital has rescued over 27,000 urban wild animals, from 203 species. The team has also worked on a successful informative campaign against establishing ostrich farming in the state of Karnataka.

Environmental Education Matters

In 2019, the team visited more than 250 schools and colleges to impart environmental education with simple tips and examples of how a student can make an impact.

“Even in 2020, amidst the COVID-19 lockdowns, we managed to realign ourselves and conduct this program online through webinars,” Bhartia says. With their experience in running a wildlife hospital, the team has created a model to train other veterinarians and rehabilitators.

Bhartia says the workshops and teaching programs have been well received, and that the team aims to share its innovations and low-cost models with everyone. Her family has also funded an observation and rehabilitation center where workshops could be held.

Au Natural

The focus has also been to use traditional and local medicines for animals, along with homeopathy, which is relatively cheap in the Indian subcontinent.

“Paralyzed monitor lizards have responded very well to such holistic treatments,” she says. “Snakes with spinal trauma responded well to acupuncture and most deer and lorises have responded well to laser physiotherapy. Low cost, nature-friendly enclosure enrichment have also been a focus.”

After attending workshops with Masanobu Fukoka, a Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for his natural farming and re-vegetation of decertified lands, Bhartia was inspired to revive a degraded piece of barren compacted land with low organic content.

“The area had a low water table. So I used traditional Rajasthani methods, planting an earthen pot with each sapling. I planted indigenous trees over the years on six acres of land. I employed two local women to sweep my neighbor’s land of its leaves (which they were otherwise disposing off by burning), and scatter over the soil in my land. I would collect waste coconut shells from vendors in the city and introduce this organic matter into barren land devoid of even a single green blade of grass or weed. Slowly, I saw various forms of life inhabiting the new ecologic micro-niche provided.”

Beating the Odds

Though inspired by Maneka Gandhi’s commitment to animal welfare, and Masanobu San’s work with organic farming, Bhartia admits that campaigns are quite challenging.

“While funding is an issue we face at regular intervals, our campaigns have borne fruit,” she says. “It took over two years but … people do change slowly. One needs to be at it consistently.”

In her spare time, Bhartia loves to cook with the fruits and products she harvests, to practice yoga daily, and to swim.

She also enjoys learning Vedic astrology, pottery and using homeopathy to give animals first aid.