“The two-legged animal is the worst animal on this earth. Don’t you agree?” asks Neelimkumar Khaire, the founder of the Indian Herpetological Society (IHS) and Director of the Katraj Snake Park, who also built the Rehabilitation Centre for Animals. He prefers to dedicate all his time to care for wild animals and reptiles than for human beings.
The rescue centre, built by Khaire, is starkly different from the bustling concrete jungle that lies outside it. It is lined with several trees and potted plants that surround the animal enclosures. Anyone who enters is greeted by warm smiles of the workers and by the pleasant sound of different birds chirping. The centre is now home to several rescued wild animals like leopards, hyenas, crocodiles, deer, black bucks and turtles, and birds like peacocks, eagles, Amazonian parrots, African grey parrots, blossom and plum-headed parakeets, finches and shikras. “These animals are mostly confiscated at the airport, since people who buy them don’t have the official papers, and then brought here. Some of them are also injured so we care for them here and make sure they heal. Once they are fine, we await the orders from the Central Zoo Authority to send their officials, who take the animals and send them to the habitat they belong,” explains Khaire.
Till date, the centre has rescued around 2000 animals each year and 35,000 animals in total. Khaire stresses that generating funds for the upkeep of the centre, food and medicine for the animals is a difficult task but luckily, he has always found generosity among people who supply him with food for the animals.
He also ensures that all the enclosures made for the animals are of required dimensions and no one is allowed to enter the rescue centre in order to create the necessary habitat. The animals are brought in injured or as babies and are taught how to hunt for their prey using different techniques. “The eagle came in when it was just a baby. Now, it’s grown up. There a remote-controlled car with a plastic green-coloured parrot on top of it. There is a hole in the parrot which is stuffed with minced meat. Once the eagle learns how to hunt that, we then graduate it to another enclosure and when it is ready, it is sent to be released,” mentions Khaire.
When asked for the reason he started the rescue centre, pat comes the reply, “Why? Is it a bad idea?” Khaire cites human beings as the reason he started it. “Animals don’t require fancy clothing, TV, mobile phones or even net connection. All they need is good space, food and lots and lots of love.”
He is one of the very few Indian herpetologists to have a snake species named after him. In a way to mark his efforts and contributions to the world of snakes, the Black Shieldtail was scientifically named Melanophidium Khairei. It can also be called Khaire’s Black Shieldtail. “Snakes are such beautiful creatures. I don’t understand why people are scared of them. They are like my gods. They protect us from rats and rodents and keep the balance. Snakes are friends of humans. Nature shouldn’t have created humans. I have seen some extreme reactions when people see snakes. Sometimes they collapse or lose consciousness. But 85 per cent of snakes are non-venomous, only 15 per cent are and we need to know how to identify those,” he points out.
In a bid to sustain the environment and recycle unusable products, Khaire started the Uttara School of Environment in 2012 in Lonavala. The school aims to create awareness of resource conservation through creative recycling. “We recycle everything except human beings!” he exclaims with a chuckle. He openly disregards the human race and states that people have a very destructive mind as there are very few who love nature and the environment. “When an animal is hurt or injured, the reason is 99.9 per cent man-made. That’s why I have a few grudges against human beings.”
It has been more than 30 years since Khaire built the rescue centre and he hasn’t taken a day off since then. “I’ll be the happiest person when I close down the animal rescue centre because then people will start to respect animals and not commit any crimes against them. Then, I won’t have any work. But I don’t think that day will come in my life. I don’t think my animals will allow me to retire.”
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