An Exclusive Interview with Ambika Shukla, Animal Activist, Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre

Posted on August 10, 2010 in Interviews

Animals – creatures that are considered fit for human cruelty. Hitting dogs, throwing bricks at speechless animals and taming them forcefully for circuses has become common news now. It is time we re-emphasised the need for animal rights to protect and safeguard their lives from humans. As an initiative to make our readers understand the need for animal rights, our correspondent, Meenakshi Gaur, sat down with the much active Ambika Shukla, animal rights activist with Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre and People for Animals (PFA). Read on below:

Q. Tell us about Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre?

A. Sanjay Gandhi is the first, oldest and largest animal care center in the country. It works for animals; treating them, looking after them and curing them. The center has its own OPD department and 5 animal ambulances which provide 24 hours free service. Sanjay Gandhi animal care center operates a 24 hours helpline on all 7 days of the week. It is home to thousands of animals like cats, dogs, camels, monkeys, birds and cattle. We care for all kinds of animals, if injured we cure them first and provide them with food and shelter. The center also runs birth control programmes; dogs are brought in from various areas by our workers. They are kept in the center for 7 days under care and after recovery are released back to the same place they were brought in from.

Q. Do you think Indian cities are crueler to animals than rural India?

A. Well, they are different places and the comparison will not be justified as in rural India animals are needed more for agriculture purposes like cattle while cities are home to street animals. Rural areas are more naturally rich, they have lakes and other water bodies whereas in the cities conditions are less conducive because no green areas are there. Rural areas provide the animals with the larger open space. There is lesser amount of traffic in the rural areas. Animals are domesticated in large numbers in villages thus they get a regular supply of food and water. Cities have traffic jam ridden roads, too much noise and congestion due to limited space. Getting food or water is much tougher in the cities. Due to ever reducing space in the cities no Gau Shalas are left. Animals have to sit under the cars to get some shade and birds perch near the coolers to even get a few drops of water in the cities. Animals’ life is no doubt tougher in cities than in rural areas, which provide better living conditions for them than the cities.

Q. In many slaughterhouses animals are skinned alive for better quality leather. Are there any guidelines issued by the government to the slaughterhouses?

A. Yes there are very strict guidelines laid down by the Indian government. Like, the animal should have rested before being slaughtered, an animal should not be killed in front of the other animals, no pregnant animal can be killed and all the animals should be diagnosed by the veterinarian before butchering them. The veterinarian must allow only the healthy animals to be slaughtered but all of it is on paper. All the strict laws have no strict implementation due to lack of will. As far as leather export is concerned, it’s illegal in India to kill cows. This kind of trade is generally carried out in slum factories under horrible conditions. Thus it all melts down to inefficiency and lack of will on the government’s part to stop it.

Q. “Project Tiger” started in 1972 with 1827 Bengal Tigers and in 2010, there are 1411 tigers left. Is the Indian Government really trying hard to save Bengal Tigers?

A. The government is not trying hard at all. Just making committees and assigning various people the task of saving tigers does not save tigers. To protect the tigers, we need to follow the same initial guidelines that were issued by Indira Gandhi, when this project was first launched. It allowed no violation of any laws; no roads inside the forest, no tourism, no mining were allowed. As a result of which the forests started rejuvenating themselves. The water streams once dried up found their course back and the animals flourished. Need of the hour is to leave the jungle alone. It will survive on its own. If people are allowed to enter the forests, trades like timber, tourism and smuggling will automatically follow, which will destroy the thick green cover and hinder the growth of the forests.

Poachers and smugglers have a field day due to unrestrained access to the animals while the forest guards are hopelessly ill-equipped with no kind of motivation or recognition for their job. They are paid peanuts for saving the national treasure. The government is not at all trying hard enough. P.M is conducting the meeting of National Board for Wildlife about vanishing tigers from Sariska. Funds are given and money is being spent but where it’s going, nobody knows. To actually save the tiger no one and absolutely no one should be allowed in the forests.

Q. Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 has failed to deter poachers. What kind of strict measures are required to save the remaining wildlife in India?

A. It’s the same issue again… The forest minister going in the jeep to inspect the forest situation will not solve the crisis. Corrective and effective measures have to be taken. Our forest intelligence is totally ineffective. There are a few forest guards and they are ill-equipped to fight the poachers. Lack of motivation in the job, no political will is there to save our forests. It will take an actual and honest desire to value animals and thus to save them. Due the lack of sincere efforts to protect animals, our forests are eroding fast. Luxury has taken the priority rather than wildlife but if soon some concrete measures are not taken then we will be jeopardizing our own lives. The issue is just not about saving Bengal Tiger but all the animals. If there are no tigers then there will be no grass. All the grass eating animals will exceed in number. There will be no rejuvenation in the forests and soon they will vanish. It will severely impact our climate and living conditions too.

Q. Do you think the increasing human population is responsible for miserable condition of animals both in jungles and in cities?

A. Yes, most certainly. See, whenever a species becomes dominant in number it automatically threatens the existence of the other species. Humans in large quantities have consumed the resources like food and water that were meant for animals. They have taken the animal’s habitat away from them and are continuing to do so. The city does not provide any kind of open space or living space for the animals. Street animals are seen as a menace but the fact is human density is many times the animal density in the cities. Animals are by nature very timid; they are scared of human contact. It’s the ruthless and intolerant human nature which forces them to defend themselves.

Q. Can you suggest some simple measures through which a layman can ensure better future for animals?

A. Firstly those who claim to be animal lovers should stop visiting jungles. It’s not the place for human intervention nor should it be tolerated. If jungles are opened for tourism; it will lead to road formation, which will lead to setting up of trade facilities. Humans will be encroaching on animal habitats and consuming their share of food and water resources, which are already scarce for them. Forest tourism is also a big reason behind the flourishing animal trade and smuggling activities. Secondly, it is important to understand that all the animals are of equal importance to maintain balance in ecosystem. If there are no tigers it will destroy the jungle’s food chain. Lack of tigers would mean more grass eating animals which will lead to no grass. Increase in one specie impacts every other species. Therefore a balance needs to be maintained. Thirdly, I would urge people to adopt Vegetarianism.

We can save animals by not eating them. We cannot always look for stricter regulations for slaughterhouses to ease the dying animal’s pain, having more laws by the government to protect animals or carry out various animal-saving projects. We need to begin with our own selves without expecting any kind of new policies or laws to protect animals. Regularly keeping a bowl of fresh water outside your house and feeding the street animals. Such small activities would provide street animals with basic survival needs in the harsh city life.