We’re All Mad!

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in India
1st June, 2009
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Having just watched the film Network on our long haul flight to Bangalore I have come to realise that I am mad! I am mad of all this! And I want to stop this madness!

But enough of my madness… You are reading this because you are a devoted fan of Luke Gamble and his fun family adventures. I am really looking forward to seeing India for the first time – being part Indian I find it fascinating to learn about my heritage and see where my relatives where born. I’m also hoping we get the Armenia episode in at some point!

The trip has already got off to a great start as for breakfast on the flight I got a nice vegetarian omlette whereas my flying buddy Luke got a lovely Indian curry. Yum! He looked like he was really enjoying it… or maybe he was mad…

“half an hour more and then home”

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in India
14th June, 2009
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I’ve been home now for just over a day and my head is still spinning from the events of the past three days. I knew that transporting an elephant 300 km wasn’t going to be easy, but what I did not expect was for a complete media circus, the most disheartening abuse of an animal and the sadness that comes from seeing the domestication of a wild animal. At one point I was seriously close to tears when the Indian mahout (elephant trainer) was whipping the poor beast with a stick. I looked up into the elephant’s eye and could see directly into its soul; beaten down and defeated the animal was begging for help. When we finally arrived at the sanctuary, which will be its new home, I was pleased to see that it has a wide-open space to live in. But my heart sinks every time I think back to the hours spent trying to get it onto the truck. It was certainly one of the cruelest things I’ve ever witnessed.

The final few days were also the longest and very tiring. Thankfully Luke nailed the ending piece to camera quite quickly and Marc’s assessment that we only needed to film “half an hour more and then home” was not as wide of the mark as it usually is. I can’t wait to see the final edit of this episode. It’s going to be immense.

India beckons

by Luke, in India
1st June, 2009
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The last few days have been fairly duck focused. Last night we had a stray duckling arrive in our garden; Little Charlie – our cat – was extremely pleased about this, as was Leuven – our ridgeback – so we all chased it about in a fruitless attempt to catch it. Despite our best efforts, it thankfully found it’s way into Nick’s pond next door where its mother came down to find it – great news. There is nothing like a family duck reunion to get you in a good mood before a long trip. Lulu (my head nurse) also informed just as I was about to leave for the airport that the duck we operated on last Friday not only made it through the weekend but is happily quacking at home with her other rescue duck ‘Deefa’. It’s been given the name ’Polo’ due to the fact it had a huge hole in its beak which we repaired. All great news – since things come in threes, I’m currently waiting for the third duck to appear as I write this blog.

I have a sneaky suspicion that I’ll be in for a long wait. I don’t think Southern India is famed for them, but I could be wrong. No idea what to expect other than plenty of variety and a buffalo with a broken horn. The last few weeks have, once again, gone with a blur. Noah is racing about at home now and causing joyous mayhem everywhere he goes and I can’t believe I’m once again seating on the aisle of a middle row at the back of a fully packed 747 to Bangalore. Seems to have been a mix up with the breakfast – Bruce is sitting a couple of seats to my right has just been given an omelette, I’ve been given a scorching curry. The air hostesses are literally racing up and down dishing out food trays at a million miles an hour, I don’t think there is much chance of me swapping this one. Guess it’s a good a time as any to start easing myself into local cuisine.

One other thing I didn’t know is that Bruce is also a comic writer. I’ve just read one on the flight – wow.

The Plight of Elephants

by Luke, in India
15th June, 2009
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The last 72 hours of the trip were immense. To briefly recap, whilst the TV crew headed back to check the footage, I did another rumenotomy on a cow and removed a staggering 20kg of plastic/money/nails which is incredible. Then Nigel and I headed off to town to get some elephant food for the following day. This was the start of an epic journey and involved an incredibly sad start to the movement of a suspected TB infected elephant.

A few dazzling stats I’ve picked up recently; India’s human population apparently accounts for a third of the world’s TB cases, a quarter of Asian elephants are in captivity and India has over 3,500 of the poor animals mostly located in temples. There is a suspected high incidence of TB amongst the captive elephant population and this is a huge risk for the people that go to worship the elephants and who receive a blessing – particularly if you are immunosuppressed. This blessing comprises a hearty pat on the head from a probing trunk and heavy inhalation of elephant breath – thus the transmission of TB.

When temple elephants get old they aren’t as useful to the temples as they can’t keep up with the work. As they are sacred the temples are in a fix because they can’t get rid of them. If they have suspected TB they can’t be kept at the temples. The animal we were involved with had been moved to a horrible pen for five months and Nigel was championing its movement to a better enclosure. Our visit was the impetus to do this as it generated good PR for the forest department but it didn’t go quite to plan.

The elephant in question had apparently killed three people but the media circus and brutality of the mahouts was something else. The forest vet in charge of proceedings was beyond useless and it was incredibly upsetting. At one point they tried to stop us filming and we refused – I didn’t fancy their chances of trying to get the camera off Adam anyway and I think they knew it. By getting totally in the way I think we did curb a bit of the brutality and I had a very ineffectual altercation with one vicious mahout who was sent away shortly afterwards by the senior mahout but it was grim. They didn’t have a ramp to load her and once they had stabbed sharp metal hooks into her mouth and jabbed her ears repeatedly as well as beaten her endlessly for about three hours, they drafted in 2 male elephants to shove her onto the lorry. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt and she did go on but we were all speechless and felt so helpless to help her. Very sad.

The actual overnight journey went well – 300km or so and we unloaded her easily – she was good as gold. Very tired at the end of it though! Her new home looked lovely so at least there was a happy ending and she’ll be much better away from her previous captors that’s for sure.

To round off 48hours on 1 hours sleep, I treated a sick temple elephant that had some abscesses and a bad foot and then we started the drive back to Bangalore. Thankfully I managed the closing lines with only about ten takes (!) and then we set off. Tyre burst on the way back so the driver and I changed that while Marc had some crisps and then the headlights wouldn’t work which was borderline the most terrifying drive of my life.

We made it to the airport, all of us exhausted, 3am check in and then back. Amazing trip, great people and challenging cases – I hope the rest are like this.

Arrived!

by Luke, in India
2nd June, 2009
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Touch tired, about two hours kip in the last 24 and it’s been an epic getting here. Lots of plane/baggage delays but we’re here and all is looking like a winner. We’re in Puttarparthi in Andrha Pradesh, it’s the home of Sai Baba who is one of the most famous gurus in India and there are pilgrims, all dressed in white robes, everywhere you look. Widely believed to be a reincarnate of a Hindu deity, he has a worldwide following in their millions and has done a lot of good things around here. There is a free hospital, innumerate water supplies, many free schools built, provided for and funded by him and that is just the start. His picture is everywhere and everyone here is an ardent follower.

We are here to help the Karuna Society, run by Dutch expat Clementein, who is overwhelmed with cases at the shelter. I’m going to have my work cut out – huge amount to do and a lot that needs help. First case was a rabid dog that was quite out of control, snapping and biting – bit of a drama. It had to be put down and thanks to the skilful handling of Clementien and her team no one was hurt. This one will be a challenge.

“Indians are the Italians of Asia”

by Marc the Producer, in India
1st June, 2009
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I am really looking forward to the India shoot. I am not worried at all as I am sure we will come across great stories in this enchanting, chaotic and beautiful country with it’s eccentric and engaging people. Adam gave me a book last year called Shantaram and it’s still top of my favourites list. For me, it’s a must-read and the author, Gregory David Roberts, sums up the character of India’s people perfectly for me when he wrote:

“… There is so much Italian in Indians, and so much Indian in Italians. They are both people of the Madonna – they demand a Goddess, even if the religion does not provide one. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy; and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop corner .For them food is music inside the body and music is food inside the heart. The language of India and the language Italy , they make every man a poet and make something beautiful from every banality. These are nations where love –amore, pyaar- makes a cavalier of a Borsalino on a street corner, and makes a princess of a peasant girl , if only for the second that her eyes meet yours.”

Brilliant, love it!

On top of that, my wife, Julia,  is half Indian, half English. Well, she is very much English as she grew up in the UK and went to India for the first time when she was 24. But nevertheless, I have a somewhat special connection to the country now and admire how there is somehow an invisible, unwritten and unspoken structure to what looks to the foreign eye like utter chaos.

Animal Euthanasia

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in India
3rd June, 2009
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A long tiring day, but one full of events and great stories: India looks like it is going to be an interesting episode. We are looking at the big question of euthanasia in animals and at what stage it is deemed correct to put an animal “to sleep”. The debate on human-euthanasia is massive and often appears in the papers every couple of years as an article on the positives and negatives. But I think that it is pretty much a given in the UK that if a pet is terminally ill or has an expensive problem the animal will be put down without any hesitation, and I can’t recall ever seeing this issue ever being debated in national newspapers. Now I understand the argument that they are animals and we have some higher level of consciousness, but I do find it funny that it is accepted as the norm. However, at the Karuna Sanctuary we were presented with animals that looked in dire conditions – a dog dragging himself around with his two front legs – and yet they are cared for by the owners of the sanctuary, who feel that they do still have a good quality of life. They argue that having spent much time with these animals they can monitor and observe to ensure that their quality of life is never negated. And if it is then the creature will eventually be put down. I can see their point of view and admire their courage and tenacity, although I can’t believe that some of the dogs are comfortable dragging their hind-quarters behind them. Having said that I do hope that we portray the society in good light as they are truly doing a great job for many other animals.

On a completely different note I think the crew and myself might go on a bit of a detox on this trip as beer seems to be banned. You never know we might actually look like kung-fu stars by the end!

Adam was on Fire!

by Marc the Producer, in India
4th June, 2009
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India doesn’t disappoint and Luke is in the zone. Today, Susie, an Aussie on a spiritual holiday, turned up at the shelter and told Luke about an injured donkey she saw at the other side of the town. It all went really quickly. Susie and Luke jumped in a tuk tuk while Adam grabbed another one to film them whizzing across town to find the donkey. Nathan and I scrambled the kit together, packed our car and tried to catch up with them. It took us quite a while to navigate through the traffic pandemonium of tuk tuks, cows and people, but eventually I saw Adam. He was hanging off the side of a tuk tuk with one hand, while in the other hand holding the huge Sony 700 HD camera pointing it at the other three-wheeler.  The next minute he was hanging outside Susie and Luke’s tuk tuk filming them having a chat while weaving through the Indian traffic. Adam was in and out of tuk tuks, stopping and directing traffic while shooting at the same time. He was on fire and loving it! No doubt, the footage is going to be great.

Karuna

by Luke, in India
3rd June, 2009
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Karuna does a huge amount of things and has a lot of projects on the go. Dogs, cats and monkeys are in abundance, most injured, paralysed or with broken limbs in various states of repair. Out the back of the main clinic are cows, buffaloes, a couple of donkeys missing a leg and a huge camel that has been rescued. There is an organic vegetable garden that supplies a local shop to raise funds for the shelter, complete with a cheese making station and mango orchard – the milk of which comes from yet more cows that have been rescued from illegal cattle trucks transporting the beasts to slaughter (bad death if you are a cow in India). That’s not all – there is also a wildlife enclosure that contains some rescued moon bears that have been saved from a dancing troop. The two adults are quite temperamental but the two cubs that they rescued a couple of months ago are absolutely adorable. I shouldn’t say this but if I could rescue a dancing bear cub and keep it as a pet – I probably would. They are great, they climb up on the sides of their pen, turn on the tap in the sink (many of the pens have sinks) and are both little characters that are very easy to fall in love with.

All of this is thanks to Clementein and her team. She is a force. Predictably she is also amazingly humble, very strong willed and incredibly determined. What she has done/is doing is amazing and very inspiring. The only one aspect that worries me is that she has such a challenge and has taken on so much, that it is very hard for her to say goodbye to some of the animals. I don’t feel I have any right to come in here, volunteer for effectively five minutes and then say that some of the animals should be put down.

I want to support and help this amazing woman and the shelter so I’m going to try to be a sounding board and we’ll see how it goes. Very difficult. Find myself questioning what the long term benefits are of this but I think it does give people hope and certainly she has a lot of support in the village. It would be very wrong to knock Clementine – she has made a real difference here – nearest vet is over four hours away so without her, cows wouldn’t be treated, people would suffer, and all the other animals would be stuck for help.

Big cases – dog in a coma – horrendous pyo, few flank bitch spays which is a new technique for me to get the hang of (one was pregnant which was a challenge), cystotomy on a cat missing two front legs. Cat seems very happy so worth trying to sort.

But must stop now; 12 hour day, 45 degree heat, one piece of toast and a sip of water. All of us are shot. Would love to go into more detail but need a beer and some kip. More tomorrow.

I Feel Cold in India

by Nathan the Assistant Producer, in India
4th June, 2009
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Well I don’t actually feel cold, but I do have a cold. I’m pretty certain the microphones today will have picked up my sniveling – I’ll blame any noise on radio interference…

At the sanctuary today I spotted the two-legged dog, who I had mentioned in my previous blog, only this time he was dragging faeces around in the bandage on his behind. I am told that the dog is actually incontinent and that he is like this much of the time. It was horrible to witness and although the bandage was eventually changed, after I pointed it out, this can’t be any sort of life for the poor creature. My own personal belief is that the dog should be put down.