Fauna and Family revisited
by Disha Sharma
Recently I reconnected with a school friend after 16 years and I was mildly amused when she said she wasn’t surprised that I am a veterinarian and now pursuing a career in wildlife medicine and conservation. “How so?” I asked. She remembered I’d announced on the microphone that I wanted to be veterinarian during our class 10 Farewell Party. Turns out not many people are surprised by my career choice! If anything, old friends and acquaintances are proud of me for following through with a childhood dream.
My earliest memories are that of my father taking me to go feed the stray dogs in our lane in a Mumbai suburb. I was never told that a dog WILL bite me if I got too close. Instead I was told that a dog could bite me if I did not respect its space. As much as I wanted a house pet, I didn’t need one. Everyone on our street knew the stray dogs were “mine” and let my family know if there was any animal on the street that needed help. Over the years, our house was a rescue and rehabilitation center for numerous birds, cats, dogs and squirrels. I also proudly recollect that during summer vacations spent in our village in Punjab, I would wait patiently for the house buffalo to make a big splosh of fresh dung!! I loved making dung-cakes with my Dadi (grandmother, or father’s mother), which were used for fuel once they dried.
My Nana-Nani (grandfather-grandmother, or mother’s parents) lived in Haridwar and during summer vacations my Nanaji would take us kids for a morning excursion to the outer rims or buffer zones of Rajaji National Park. We’d climb on a machaan and wait for wild animals to show up. During the day, we would help Naniji in the vegetable garden (but mostly got distracted making mud houses). After a long day we’d go to our favourite rivulet of River Ganga and have a good splash to cool off. We’d spot turtles and fish in the water and sometimes elephants would show up up-stream for a drink of water.
Looking back, I have no doubt that these experiences made me who I am today and I am ever so grateful to my whole family for allowing me to experience and build an intimate relation with animals and nature. The world is fast changing and I try my best to make decisions which I hope will help preserve our forests and rivers for my yet unborn children – so they can, hopefully, some day experience the joys of playing in the mud (uncontaminated by chemical fertilizers and pesticides), swimming in a river or pond (uncontaminated by plastic waste, chemicals and other toxins) and sit on a machaan in a forest (which hasn’t been stripped of its green cover) to watch the grandeur of wild animals (not poached for illegal wildlife trade).
I am of the opinion that if I want the best for my children and my children’s children then that is where we have to start! With children! In May 2015, IndeBo and Turtle Survival Alliance-India collaborated to celebrate World Turtle Day on the banks of Chambal River. As part of the TSA team, I was over-joyed to hear that school students from Delhi will be participating. As hoped, these students enjoyed learning about the river ecology and its importance in our everyday life. For me, even if one child was motivated to conserve water, to not litter in public spaces and maybe considered a future to protect our natural resources; then my job there was a success. The children and youth of today are the decision and policy makers of tomorrow and these first-hand experiences with nature and wildlife will guide their future decisions, as they did and still guide mine.
IndeBo is going on a Turtle safari again!! Thank you for recruiting my future army for me!
We know Disha Sharma from her days in TSA India where she joined as a staff veterinarian in 2014 and was based at the Kukrail Gharial and Turtle Centre. Disha graduated from Bombay Veterinary College, Mumbai, in 2007 with a Bachelor of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry. She first worked as a small-animal practitioner in Mumbai, then shifted to wildlife medicine and conservation. In 2012, she graduated with a Master of Sciences in Wild Animal Health from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. Disha further honed her conservation skills as an intern with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, U.K.