An early start
Shravan’s was no ordinary childhood – while others his age watched cartoons, he was engrossed in Discovery Channel and National Geographic and spent his summers playing with reptiles at the Madras Crocodile Bank.
As an enthusiastic eighth grader, Shravan recollects his experience working with the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network in Chennai. “We used to walk along the coast through the night, collect Olive Ridley turtle eggs, keep them in hatcheries, and then release the offspring into the ocean. That was mostly my routine during the turtle nesting season,” he shares on his way to a rescue.
Although animal rescues took a back seat when Shravan occupied himself with playing state-level cricket, when a back surgery forced him off the field, there was no question about what his further course of action would be. Armed with the experience from his school days, he decided to pursue wildlife conservation full-time. “Soon, I started collaborating with the forest department in answering rescue calls.”
Shravan believes that there is excellent wildlife in the coastal city of Chennai.
We have Olive Ridley turtles nesting on our coasts, we have two reserve forests on the city’s suburbs… Nonetheless, there are very few people involved with wildlife conservation, and that’s where there exists a huge gap, he explains.
Till date, Shravan has rescued a wide range of snakes, wild cats, jackals, monitor lizards, and pangolins.
A pet-friendly venture
So how did he move from wildlife conservation to caring for man’s best friend?
The idea dawned upon me after I had to back out of a family trip to take care of my pet dog. There weren’t any good pet care centres in the city and my dogs developed several ticks whenever they were left behind, he says, and that was how Hotel for Dogs, a canine boarding facility that was the first of its kind in Chennai, came to be in 2014.
How is it different from pet spas and grooming centres, though? “We have very safe, hygienic kennels and a lot of free space where dogs can move around and socialise. There is also a pool where our pawed friends can play and have fun.” Their kennels are also climate-controlled and sound-proofed.
Hotel for Dogs expanded to Bengaluru in November 2015 and both the centres combined have boarded around 10,000 dogs. Shravan has a dedicated team of 40 people who, having shadowed him, have learnt from his hands-on experience. The revenue generated from the boarding facility is used for his rescue work and fighting for animal rights.
On a typical day, Shravan gets at least 15 rescue calls in and around Chennai, half of which are usually snakes. Ask him about the challenges involved in rescuing animals and he says, “Snake rescues are still the most challenging of them all. Each time, it’s like a puzzle that you have to identify and solve. After identifying whether it is a venomous/non-venomous snake, you also have to find ways to keep it in safely.”
Initially, when I began my rescue work, I was rather careless and wore shorts everywhere. On one such rescue call, I spotted a non-venomous rat snake in a well and entered to remove it. Just before I could get my hands on it, I was shocked to find a lethal Russell’s viper coiled up right next to my leg. That’s when I shifted to wearing pants for work, quips Shravan, recalling one of his most unforgettable rescues.
Learning from experience, Shravan has now evolved into a more careful wildlife conservationist who treats every rescue with the seriousness it deserves. “Though it’s tiring, round-the-clock work, there have to be certain protocols followed and I cannot afford to take it lightly for there is a constant risk of being bitten.”
Stronger legislations required
Twenty-six-year-old Shravan rose to fame when he rescued and rehabilitated a street dog (later named Bhadra) who survived being thrown off a terrace by a couple of medical students last year. Shravan is happy to inform one and all that Bhadra is now doing wonderfully in her forever home.
“In a way, Bhadra’s brutal, torturous incident changed many things. Many people are now coming forward to report cruelty against animals. The public is also more sympathetic towards animal rights and hence it has created some kind of impact,” opines Shravan, who widely uses social media platforms to crowdsource funds for his animal rescue work. “I also use social media to help other people (and their causes) who do not have the kind of reach that I do,” he further adds.
The culprits involved in Bhadra’s case got away with a fine of just Rs 50 because of India’s archaic animal welfare laws, which are a source of great disappointment to animal lovers like Shravan.
The domestic laws involving cruelty against pet animals are pretty useless unlike the wildlife protection laws which are thoughtfully crafted. But in any case, it is not the law but the implementation that’s the crux of the problem, he explains, dejectedly adding, You can get away with murder in this country, so animal welfare is of least concern.
However, Shravan is optimistic and adamant about keeping the fight going. “There is a 2011 amendment pending in the Parliament. We also have Prashant Bhushan championing animal rights in the Supreme Court pro bono,” says Shravan, insisting that he will continue to question people who are capable of making decisions pertaining to animal welfare and wildlife conservation. “In fact, they are my favourite people to bully,” he shares laughingly.
Nevertheless, no future plans as such for Shravan, who just wants to make his city, Chennai, a safe one for animals and residents alike. Apart from the several awareness camps and animal welfare talks he conducts for schools and communities, Shravan hopes to contribute towards policy-related changes in future.
I finally ask what keeps him going at this rather tough job and Shravan bets that “there’s no better feeling than to rescue and rehabilitate an animal. The joy you get after you find them a home is unmatchable.”
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