Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Portage dentist sends SOS to rescue India's wildlife

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As a boy growing up in a crowded city in India, the sight of dancing bears on leashes did not amuse Sanjeev Reddy.

"I always had a fascination with wildlife," said Reddy. Seeing the torment and suffering of black bears on the streets of Bangalore scarred him.

"You had a 300-pound animal parading around the streets with a muzzle around its nose, and you could see its festering wounds," Reddy recalled.

The image haunted him through his adulthood and all the way to Canada, where he immigrated in 2004.

Now, living in a spacious suburb with a dental practice in Portage la Prairie, he's going to bat for those faraway bears so they can have a better life in India.

And he's getting the word out about sanctuaries making room for other wildlife in the crowded country. Wildlife SOS India gave the dancing bears a place where they could be bears for their remaining years in a more natural habitat, he said.

"This organization was rescuing them, and that sounded good to me. That's how I got involved," said Reddy.

The dancing bears had been taken as cubs from their mothers who were shot. Their big sharp teeth were intentionally broken down by their keepers, and the bears were in pain. On a visit eight years ago, Sanjeev performed some dental work on a couple of bears in a sanctuary. It wasn't a big deal, said Reddy.

He's worried about the big picture in India now with its booming economy and wildlife under threat.

"Now that India is progressing economically, it should be looking at its environment," said the dentist who returns every year.

"A lot of education is being done there, but there needs to be more," said Reddy, who's set out to educate people in his new country.

"There's a billion and a half people in a country that's not even half the size of Canada."

Wildlife SOS was founded in 1998 by two Indians to curb wildlife crime and help creatures in distress. Its landmark dancing bears project brought an end to the age-old and cruel practice in India. Since the ban, it's rescued and rehabilitated more than 600 dancing bears.

The charity, registered in India, the U.S. and the U.K. but not in Canada, is buying land near protected areas and has set up sanctuaries for several species, said Reddy.

The dancing bears, which have been banned, are just one of a host of animal species in trouble, including elephants, tigers and leopards. They're either losing their natural homes or targeted by poachers or both.

Population growth and development are putting the squeeze on most of India's wildlife, Reddy said.

It's gotten so bad that leopards are now being found on the outskirts of Mumbai, India's largest commercial centre, said Reddy.

Every year, the Manitoba dentist returns to India for a visit and makes a point of visiting a wildlife sanctuary, said Reddy.

This last trip was extra special. It was part of his honeymoon. He and his bride and 10 friends from Canada visited wildlife sanctuaries.

Instead of wedding gifts, the couple asked for donations to Wildlife SOS. Back at home in Canada, wildlife lovers want to help, too, Reddy said. He's been invited to speak to the Portage Rotary Club. Whenever he can, he talks about the sanctuaries trying to save India's wildlife.

"I want to get the word out."


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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 31, 2012 J12

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