Nadeem Shehzad’s house in a narrow, winding lane of Shah Ganj in the Walled City doubles up as a hospital for birds. Shehzad, 34, rescues injured birds from across Delhi and the National Capital Region, provides them medical treatment at his house till they are fit to fly again. He says he has rescued injured birds from the Prime Minister’s and the Vice-President’s residences and several embassies too. The terrace of his house boasts of an aviary where you see dozens of black kites, hawks and raptors recuperating from their injuries, mostly cut-wounds inflicted in air by sharp glass-coated kite flying strings.
His bedroom serves as a nursing home; he shares it with his wife and chicks: small injured sparrows, hawks, owls, and other birds. His bed and other furniture are speckled with droppings. “Thousands of birds lose their wings in the city every year by getting entangled in manjha (glass-coated strings) used for kite-flying. It cuts through the wings, sinews and bones rendering a bird unfit to fly for life,” says Nadeem Shehzad, who is otherwise in the business of manufacturing liquid soap dispensers.
He got into the act of rescuing birds in 1998, when he saw a black kite with a severe cut in its wings near Shanti Van. He took the injured bird to a bird hospital, which however did not treat predatory birds. “After that, whenever we took birds with deep cut wounds to veterinary doctors in the city, they would do nothing except dress the wounds,” says Shehzad, who is currently pursuing BSc from Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU).
So, in 2003, Shehzad and his younger brother Mohammad Saud decided to teach themselves avian medicine and surgery. They read books and journals on the subject, learnt the basics of providing medical treatment — administering drugs, dressing wounds and applying splints to fractured bones from a local veterinary doctor. He even learnt performing bone implants from an orthopedic surgeon. YouTube, he says, also helped him learn some complex surgical procedures. Currently, he says, he is reading a book called Avian Medicine and Surgery, which he recently bought for R4,500.
Injured birds are shifted to the aviary at his house after they receive treatment at his office-cum-operation theatre, equipped with drill machines, stainless steel wires, sutures, bone-cutters and medicines. “Almost all the birds we treat are able to fly again,” he says, adding, “In 90% of the cases, predatory birds such as black kites get injured from sharp kite-flying strings and the rest are cases of chicks falling off nests.”
Two years ago, he launched a bird helpline to provide quick treatment to injured birds. The helpline, he says, gets most calls from west Delhi and north Delhi, and the least from south Delhi, where kite-flying is not a popular hobby. He also gets calls from police control rooms (PCR) and the fire department. He and his brother go to pick the injured birds themselves. Shehzad has already treated 750 birds between January and June this year.
On an average, he says, about 8,000 birds get injured in Delhi and the NCR every year. He receives most of the injured birds in February, August and November, months when kite flying is popular and birds sustain cuts from kite threads. These months, Shehzad is on the roads for 10-12 hours a day. “The moment we get a call, we rush to pick the birds on our bikes. We often have to rush out of our business meetings to pick injured birds and treat them. But it is a thankless job. People who call us feel the onus is on us to save the bird and their job is done with calling us. They don’t take the trouble to keep the injured bird such as a pigeon at a safe place till we arrive. An injured bird can be eaten up by animals like dogs, so it has to be kept away from them,” he laments.
Shehzad says he is often roped in by organisations such as Wildlife SOS, Jain Bird Hospital and Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre for treatment of injured birds. “When we started treating injured birds, manufacturing soap dispensers was our main business. Now, it has become our side business. But we have no regrets,” says Shezhad, who spends about R8,000 a month in the kite-flying season on the treatment of birds.
Ask him how his family reacts to his intensifying affair with chicks? “My wife is supportive. She plays a perfect nurse to the recuperating birds kept in our bedroom,” he laughs.
He wants to learn micro-surgery and other medical procedures and open a formal bird rescue centre with state-of-the-art operating facilities. “I believe that only animals used for commercial purposes are taken to hospitals, not other animals and birds. We are looking for doctors who can give us further training. It is high time we took care of our feathered friends,” he says.