Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mumbai's Bird Man

The first time I met Pradeep was some fifteen years ago when we were vaccinating street dogs against rabies in the Fort area. He was playing cricket on an empty Sunday  street, on the otherwise busy P.M. Road and he suddenly came up to me and muttered in Hindi. “I will help you in the vaccination”. That was to be a very long association and he still helps us not only with his passion- the birds but also with other animals .  
Had written this for the Outlook magazine some years ago…..this is the unedited version….
Pradeep D'Souza - ducking the camera
You will have to go round and round a spiral wooden staircase that winds up  four floors, come to a open to the sky terrace, enter a little room, climb onto a steep ladder, go through a little window and finally you would have entered into Mumbai’s birdman, Pradeep D’Souza’s little bird haven, a shelter cum hospital ‘nestled’ on top of a small terrace in the heritage Queen’s Mansion in the Fort area of South Mumbai. 

Pradeep had a passion for birds since his childhood days as his older brother used to keep pigeons as pets. When they fell sick and as there was no vet who was specialized in the treatment of birds, all he could do was see them die. Determined to save his birds, Pradeep started reading books on bird care and medication. He learnt about preventive vaccinations for Ranikhet or Newcastle disease and treatment of various bird ailments.
A rescued masked booby

Thus in 1997, he started treating injured and sick birds brought by other people and till date must have treated over 3000 feathered flock of different species.  From the common ones like parrots, pigeons, crows and kites to the rarer ones like eagles, falcons, mask boobys and night herons; they have all passed through his healing hands.

Pradeep treats more than hundred birds a month. His name as a bird savior has spread far and wide and people bring injured birds to him from all over Mumbai, even from far flung places like Virar and Nala Sopara.  There is a cage kept in the compound of the building where people can deposit the birds. He is currently housing more than 250 birds that include thirty parrots, eight owls, thirty kites, hundreds of pigeons, a duck, a mask booby, a night heron and crows.  All these are housed in cages weaved and built by Pradeep himself. As soon as a bird heals up he lets them free depending on their original habitat.

He says that his birds always remember him. A kite that he housed for two months due to injury and was set free after it healed, refused to go away and kept coming back. His family has played a big role in supporting his passion. His mother helps out in the feeding and his brothers have always helped out financially. One of his brothers, Donald who runs a cable TV business and is a partner in a fast food joint called Fido’s near Sterling theatre has helped him with the costs he incurs on building bird cages and buying medicines. There are also some individuals who fund the feed expenses. 

But the soft spoken, shy and humble Pradeep says that it does not cost too much to maintain birds as medicines are not very expensive. He never charges anyone his services and in fact is shy when it comes to accepting any money.  He adds that his neighbors have been very supportive and never complain as his birds have never been a disturbance to the people around.
Pradeep's little bird haven
His dream is to have a large terrace which has plenty of sunlight; some where in South Mumbai so that he can treat thousands of birds and release them more easily.  Terraces anyone …. For the bird cause!