By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Oct 7 (IANS) A rare and highly-endangered gigantic white-rumped vulture, figuring on the IUCN Red List and found in a near-dead condition, has been saved by a Mumbai family and is now ready to take wings.
After eight months of love and care, the strong and highly-aggressive bird — sporting a deadly beak, standing nearly three feet tall with a wing-span of around nine feet — will soar high in the sky from October 10.
“On Tuesday, (October 9), we shall take this beautiful bird to the St. John Church in Ballard Estate for a special blessing ceremony by the priest, Fr Joe D’Souza. The next day, we shall release it in the thick forests of Nashik,” its rescuer, Pradeep D’Souza, told IANS.
After the church ceremony, a team of Forest Department officials and a vet will examine the bird, issue a medical fitness certificate and then allow it to be released back to nature, he said, adding it figures on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of critically-endangered species.
Known as “Mumbai’s Birdman’ in nature circles, D’Souza, 42, and his family toiled virtually day and night to ensure the vulture was up on its wings and fit to answer the call of the wild.
“It was late on February 21 that we brought it here from a slum in Reay Road (south Mumbai). It was lying beside the main road, badly injured, bleeding, a lump in its long neck, with insects troubling it, but nobody daring to touch it for several hours,” D’Souza told IANS.
In fact, many NGOs and animal care groups failed to heed D’Souza’s SOS calls, saying “it’s impossible to find such a rare and highly endangered vulture in a concrete jungle like Mumbai”.
Finally, he rushed to the spot, barely six kilometres from his home, picked it up and brought it to his own make-shift “nursing home” for treatment, along with a large number of other feathered patients on the terrace of the 100-year old Queens Mansion building, in the heart of the Fort area.
Besides the white-rumped vulture, the free “nursing home” has other patients — around 150 kites and eagles, 100 pigeons, two dozen owls, several cattle egrets and more — all flapping harmoniously under one roof. Many are “discharged” after treatment and many more “admitted”.
They are lovingly tended by his 72-year-old mother, Rita D’Souza, elder brother Donald and his wife Joanita, both 50, and their 18-year old daughter Vanessa, a hotel management trainee with Hotel President Vivanta in Colaba. Pradeep D’Souza is a bachelor, “wedded to the birds”, as many say.
“That evening (February 21), this vulture could barely keep his head steady. It had toxicity and infections, severe weakness due to hunger and blood loss and was virtually dead,” D’Souza recalled the ordeal, as the grim family started its treatment with medicines and prayers.
They administered the vulture some injections, a lot of fresh coconut water to remove the toxicity, regular antibiotic doses with water and fed tiny pieces of red meat for the bird to gain strength.
“Almost miraculously, it was fully cured of the injuries in 48 hours, but still remained very weak and unable to hunt on its own. In a month or so, it recovered full strength, and then barely tolerated even my presence,” D’Souza laughed.
Then, it suffered an attack by ticks for which he used a herbal spray treatment and, in the monsoon, it started to naturally shed lot of wing feathers, which regrew by September.
Now, it is completely hale and hearty, a happy D’Souza explained as his mother, brother, sister-in-law and niece smiled with joy.
In the past few months, the massive vulture has been consuming up to 750 gms of red meat daily and drinks a lot of water, signalling his complete recovery after a near-death experience.
Following the brief church blessing rituals and Forest Department formalities, the white-rumped vulture, for whom an NGO, Sparsh, specially created a 4x4x4 foot wooden cage, will be transported in a van to Nashik’s famed “Vulture Restaurant” in Harsul forests, around 300 km north of Mumbai.
While Donald D’Souza finances the food-medicines portion of his brother’s passion, Sparsh’s activist-couple Maharishi Dave and his wife Rutu Dave foot all other costs like transportation, maintenance of the caring areas, cages, et al.
“I had approached several other NGOs, trusts, temples and other organisations which claim concern for wildlife, but nobody helped with one rupee. Some even said they would help if I treated only “vegetarian birds”, which was shocking,” D’Souza said.
The Nashik site was selected as the region has over a 100 vultures of different species in the wild and the Forest Department has set up a “Vulture Restaurant” where carcasses of various creatures are dumped for these magnificent birds to feast on
For 25 years now, D’Souza has completely dedicated himself to the thankless cause of saving all types of injured birds and is happy that his family supports him without any questions, and without expecting any recognition or rewards.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at [email protected])