One woman’s quest to help wildlife

July 30, 2013 | By dw
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Snehal Bhavsar has been relentless for the past 30 years in her efforts to help wildlife.  Her specialty has become working to save reptiles and she is internationally known as a crocodile expert.  She runs the Gujarat SPCA which Wildlife SOS proudly provides financial assistance for.  She recently squeezed time in her busy schedule for an interview.  We hope you are as inspired as we are with what one person can do to protect wildlife.

How did you get started with reptile rescue?  Many years ago I came across some people who were beating a snake.  The image of what happened to the animal disturbed me, so a couple of days later I went back to the location where the incident had taken place.  To my horror, I saw that the snake was still alive.  So, I took it upon myself to read everything I could about snakes and other reptiles found in the area.  The more I learned, the more passionate and fascinated I became with reptiles and I started rescuing and re-releasing reptiles into the wild.

So are you self-taught in handling all the various types of reptiles?  Yes, I have learned how to handle venomous snakes, crocodiles and other animals that our organization rescues through mostly independent efforts.  The first crocodile I ever rescued was 8 feet long.  He was a challenge to figure out how we could safely catch him and then release him into a suitable environment.  It is a long story, but we did it!

Teaching yourself how to handle venomous snakes and crocodiles is both impressive and unusual.  Have you ever been injured doing this work?  My worst ‘accident’ happened about a year ago.  I was trying to rescue a Russell’s viper, which is a very venomous snake found throughout India.  It was dark out and there was poor lighting.  I had control of the head, but my finger brushed up alongside one of the fangs and there was a small prick.  That prick was all it took to put me in a coma in the hospital. Everybody was preparing for me to die, but I pulled through.  It was a freak accident.

You started the Gujarat SPCA (GSPCA) and you utilize a lot of volunteers to do the rescue work, tell us a little bit about that?  We wanted to provide a 24 hour rescue service to the community and to the animals.  The only way to do that effectively when we can’t pay to hire a lot of staff was to empower passionate volunteers.  So, we now have a program that takes one full year to complete.  After a volunteer completes the year of training successfully, they are basically certified to do rescue work by our organization. It takes a full year because we want to ensure that people are knowledgeable about identifying species and they are capable of handling animals without hurting the animal or themselves.

In the 30 years you have been helping animals, is ther one animal that sticks with you as being the most memorable?  There are so many, but if I had to choose one it would be this one particular crocodile.  With our crocodile rescue program, we track each animal to see if it has been rescued more than once.  In the over 300 that we have rescued, very few have needed to be rescued a second time.  However, there was one that we rescued over 8 times. The last time I had gotten a call about a crocodile that had been found on the railroad tracks after it had been hit by a train.  It was still alive.  We all wondered if it was the same animal we had rescued multiple times before. The crocodile’s tail had been severed from the body.  We rushed him to the veterinarian and tried to save him.  When we got to the vet it was confirmed that this was the same crocodile we had rescued several times.  Unfortunately, we were unable to save him.  We tried our best and I will always remember this special crocodile.

Is there anything else you would like to say?  Since we started the GSPCA, I feel very good that reptiles are rarely being killed in this region.  People know who to call for help and the community knows they can count on us.  I truly love reptiles and hope more people will learn to appreciate them the way I have.

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