The sadhu (Hindu sage) woke with the sunrise in the small stone temple on the edge of Baldeo village. Sandwiched between the quiet village and a patch of forest in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the temple is particularly tranquil in the early hours of the morning when not much breaks the silence except the chirping of birds.
Today, however, was different. A high pitched cry emanated from the thicket just beside the temple, carrying over the tree tops and alerting the sadhu. The noise seemed to be that of an animal in pain, and the holy man ran to the village to gather help, convinced by the persistent but gradually weakening cries, that if he did not act quickly, the animal would die. The villagers responded promptly, as they too had heard the plaintive cries, and a concerned group rushed to the source of the sound to investigate further.
What they saw before them made them stop dead in their tracks.
A group of men seemed to have surrounded an animal a little larger than a dog, and were beating it with iron rods. The animal’s writhing body was drenched in blood making it was impossible to tell what it was. Startled by the approaching villagers, the men darted off into the forest, leaving behind a blood-soaked body- whimpering softly under its breath. The villagers approached cautiously, fearful that it might be scared and aggressive, but found that the animal was so battered and weak that it could not muster the will to move. Realising time was running out to save the animal, the villagers immediately contacted the Forest Department who then alerted Wildlife SOS. Wildlife SOS immediately dispatched its rapid response unit from Agra, who swiftly made their way to the village.
The rescue team had never seen anything like it before. Spluttering blood, the female hyena could barely move besides uncontrollable trembling. With the utmost care, the team gently lifted her limp body into the rescue vehicle and dashed back in the direction of Wildlife SOS’ Agra Bear Rescue Facility, with a rescue team member desperately trying to console the animal.
The vets at ABRF were ready and waiting at the Operation Theatre when the rescue vehicle pulled up, but nothing could prepare them for the sight that met their eyes. If not for the occasional choked, barely audible whimper, they would have assumed the hyena was dead.
The inspection of the animal revealed an old jaw-trap injury to one hind paw, confirming the team’s suspicions. “Poachers often track animals for months,” said Baiju Raj, Director- Conservation Projects with Wildlife SOS, “The jaw-trap wound is sure indication that the animal was being targeted by poachers, so it’s safe to assume the assailants were probably from the group.” This amazing but misunderstood species is targeted by poachers for their fur and meat, as well as for other body parts that are mistakenly believed to have aphrodisiacal properties.
But the team’s primary concern now was the animal in front of them. Repeated blows to the head had left its left eye purple and swollen, and further inspection revealed that the eye socket was shattered.
A steady trickle of blood from her mouth indicated the damage to her jaw and mouth, and the vets were worried that she may have sustained internal injuries as well. After an x-ray assured them that there was no immediate cause for concern regarding internal damage, the vets got to work treating the external wounds she had sustained during the vicious beating.
“The eye was beyond any help, and had to be removed so the infection didn’t spread,” explains Dr. Ilayaraja, senior veterinarian at ABRF, “Despite our best efforts, it was hard to believe the animal would survive after this kind of trauma.”
The following days were tense as the hyena continued to inch towards death, unable to stand or eat on her own. She lay on the operating table for two days, unmoving and kept alive by the transparent liquid trickling through her IV drip.
Then suddenly, slowly, and with immense difficulty, she sat herself up. She still had some fight left in her!
Over the following days, the brave animal steadily improved. She progressed from sitting up to standing and taking baby steps. When she began eating on her own, the entire team breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Weakened, partially blind and still recovering from the jaw-trap injury, the hyena’s chances of survival in the wild are severely diminished, and we’re keeping her in our care before taking the decision to release her or provide her lifelong sanctuary. We’re hoping our efforts and the fighter in her get her the freedom of the wild, but in the event that release is not feasible, she has a permanent home at our centre and in all of our hearts.