Wildlife
Andra Phaneendra, a veterinary doctor, has also helped the Forest Department to save wild animals from poachers.

When we call Dr Andra Phaneendra, a wildlife veterinary consultant, he has just returned after rescuing a hare from its burrow which was flooded in the recent Andhra rains. “The legs are already stiff and weak. I think the animal was stuck inside the hole for a long time,” the doctor says, as he talks about how there is no proper mechanism to rescue animals stuck during calamities.

If you are wondering what a veterinary consultant is doing in a flood ravaged village in East Godavari, you should know that the doctor has been doing this for the past 10 years in various parts of Andhra Pradesh. While we may know of wildlife rescuers like Vaava Suresh in Kerala, who rescue snakes that stray into human habitats, Phaneendra, in the past decade, has rescued over 300 wild animals, ranging from a mouse deer to a leopard. He then treats them on the spot or rehabilitates them in his clinic until they recover.

Phaneendra, who works as a consultant to the Andhra Pradesh Animal Husbandry Department, started his own wildlife veterinary clinic Paws and Claws in 2011. His clinic in itself is a mini-museum of birds and reptiles where he also treats the rescued animals for injuries before they are let out into their natural habitats. The wildlife clinic soon became popular among the people of Rajahmundry, and Phaneendra says that now his phone doesn’t stop ringing with villagers calling him with various requests - from rescuing a wild boar that's destroying their crops to the Forest Department seeking help to save animals from poachers.

Phaneendra’s tryst with animals goes way back to the time when he was a child and he had all kinds of pets at home. “My favourite was a duck with whom I used to talk about everything under the sun. It used to live in my room, and eat from my plate only, much to my mom's chagrin. I later completed my degree in veterinary sciences and my parents have now gotten used to my ways of life as they have realised I am good at whatever I have been doing,” Phaneendra laughs.

The first time Phaneendra unofficially rescued an animal was at a gym where he was working out. “A monkey entered the space and people started running helter-skelter. The poor thing had gone astray from its group and looked frightened. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I was able to calm down the animal which then soundly slept in my lap for about an hour. The monkey lived with me for quite some time during which it sometimes used to accompany me to the gym as well,” the doctor chuckles, adding, “but very soon he left me for the forest, and ever since, I don’t allow myself to get too close with any animal before it’s released into its natural habitat.”

So how does a day in the life of this young doctor look like? “I get frequent calls from the Forest Department or people try to reach me through my Facebook page. I try and attend to maximum number of cases possible. Over the years, I have rescued a wide range of animals, including the Indian bison, pangolins and leopards,” Phaneendra says.

Though there is no position for a veterinary doctor at the Forest Department in Andhra, Phaneendra works very closely with the government in rescuing animals from poachers.

“Very recently, we were able to rescue a pangolin from people who were trying to sell it. The pangolin is one of the most trafficked mammals in the world,” the doctor says. He also recalls another instance where an Asian palm civet was killed and six babies were left behind. “For two-and-a-half months, I took care of them, trained them to hunt for small food like rats and then left them in the wild,” he adds.

Phaneendra shot to fame in 2018 for rescuing a 15-foot python and its 15 eggs from a village. But unfortunately, the aggressive python mother was nowhere to be found after the rescue operation, and Phaneendra nurtured the eggs artificially in an incubator in his clinic before the babies were released in appropriate areas inside the forest.

However, for Phaneendra, the python rescue hasn’t been the most daring rescue mission till date. The doctor and his team spent close to a day tracking down a leopard which was on prowl in a nearby village recently,  an expedition during which he also sustained minor injuries.

“We sprung to action the moment we got a call from one of the villagers informing us that the leopard had been spotted. But alas! The animal kept evading our attempts of capture. It finally ran into a hut and it took us close to 20 hours to trap it. The animal was then tranquilised and taken to the Nehru Zoological Park where it was kept for two months before being released into the wild,” the doctor narrates.

In the month of March, Phaneendra and his colleagues at the Forest Department conducted a workshop for 40 veterinary doctors who had come from three districts of Andhra Pradesh, West Godavari, East Godavari and Krishna to equip them to handle emergency rescue operations. Phaneendra, who has been a field doctor for the Andhra Wildlife Department for 10 long years now, hopes to develop a mechanism that can help animals that are stuck in natural calamities.