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Heart for Animals

Mar/14/2021 / by bindu-gopal-rao

Animal welfare and wildlife conservation have been the two aspects that Alpana Bhartia has tirelessly worked on for the last 25 years.

As trustee and founder, People for Animals, Alpana Bhartia has managed to tread the dual path of teaching and conservation with a rare aplomb. She tells us about her journey with all things organic and conservation in this exclusive tête-à-tête.

Flash Back

Born in Kolkata, into a Rajasthani family where traditionally the women were not encouraged to go out to work, Alpana’s mother and aunts were running small entrepreneurial businesses from their homes and garages. One of her aunts was a frontline social worker with Mother Teresa and her father had always encouraged her to pursue various hobbies over the years. It helped that she schooled at La Martinière for Girls, a progressive institute that nurtured myriad talents in its students. As she got married early and moved to Bangalore with her husband Alok Bhartia, she did not get to finish college. “What the lack of it did give me was curiosity and a confidence to solve problems using simple common sense. It made me go onto self-study subjects like our environment, nature, organic farming and wildlife. I was not restricted by my narrow field of college studies,” she reminisces.

Animal Connect

It was when her friend Namrata Dugar asked her if she would join Maneka Gandhi, who used to then broadcast a TV show called ‘Heads and Tails’ on animal issues, that led her to start the Bangalore chapter of ‘People for Animals’ (PfA) in 1996. Focusing on the urban wildlife in the city, she leased a six-acre plot of land on the outskirts of the city that became the PfA Wildlife Rescue & Conservation Centre.” Bangalore has a huge mix of wildlife in its urban greens, but rapid urbanization has negatively impacted this flora and fauna. “Extensive use of Laser physiotherapy unit which facilitates speedier recovery in spinal injured animals and to address acute pain. Incubators for neonates and animals critically ill. Acupuncture, homeopathy and water therapy is also used to aid faster recovery.” Till date, the hospital has rescued over 27,000 urban wild animals, of 203 species. The team has also worked on a successful informative campaign against establishing ostrich farming in the state of Karnataka.

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.” With their pioneering and unique experience in running a Wildlife Hospital, they have created a model for training other veterinarians and rehabilitators in this field. “The workshops and teaching programs we have done with SAARC nations have been well received. We would like to share our innovations and low-cost models with them. My family funded us in creating 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 like homeopathy which is relatively very cheap in the Indian subcontinent. “Paralyzed monitor lizards have responded very well to such holistic treatments. Snakes with spinal trauma responded well to acupuncture and most deer and lorises have responded well to physio-laser therapy. Low cost and nature-friendly enclosure enrichment have also been a focus with us. We showed how we have created low-cost owl nesting boxes for the community.” After attending workshops with Masanobu Fukoka, a Japanese farmer and philosopher celebrated for his natural farming and re-vegetation of decertified lands, Alpana was inspired to revive a degraded piece of barren compacted land with zero organic content. “The area had a low water table. So I used traditional Rajasthani methods of 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 take it with me and introduce this organic matter over the 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 Odds

Inspired by Maneka Gandhi’s level of commitment to the cause of animal welfare and Masanobu San’s work with organic farming, she admits that campaigns are quite challenging. “While funding is an issue we face at regular intervals, the campaigns we conducted against the exploitation of animals has borne fruitful results. It took over two years but when you work with the people and communicate the reasons why some practices need to be looked at with a wider world view, people do change slowly. One needs to be at it consistently.” In her spare time, she loves to cook with the fruits and products she harvests, practices yoga daily and loves to swim. “I enjoy the study of scientific Vedic astrology and pottery. I also enjoy learning the use of homeopathic medicines for first aid and used it for treating some of the animals at the Wildlife Hospital with good results,” she concludes.

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