I’ve been reading up on volunteering at animal shelters and rescue centres, animal welfare and cruelty-free living. I wanted to get a volunteer’s quick perspective on the first, so a big thank you to Alpana and Anbu of ACRES for letting me share a part of their story. I hope it inspires you too.
The life of an ACRES volunteer is rich and varied. One minute you’re rescuing an equatorial spitting cobra, and the next you’re rescuing a pangolin. At least that’s what it must feel like.
For Alpana Ahuja, both events actually happened just months apart in the same garden.
“The family had no idea what a pangolin was, and I told them how lucky their garden is,” relates the artist and illustrator, who’s been with ACRES for 13 years.
“The pangolin taught me how fantastic they are as climbers, and how they can use their tail to grip things tightly. It’s a gentle, beautiful creature indeed.” (A pangolin is described as a scaly anteater whose existence is reported to be threatened.)
But thanks to her work with ACRES...
... these are not the only animals Alpana’s inspired by and been fortunate enough to meet. Short for Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, ACRES is an organisation in Singapore that has been dedicated to animal protection, rescue and rehabilitation since 2001. It is involved in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade, offering the animals a sanctuary at the ACRES Wildlife Rescue Centre (AWRC). It also promotes educational and community outreach programmes to raise awareness on animal rights and issues.
“Education is very close to my heart, and that’s what I started doing for ACRES in 2005. I work with them to create content for schools and inculcate compassion in children,” Alpana narrates.
“I used Louis Ng (ACRES founder and chief executive) and his wife Amy’s dog, Penni, as my main character and created a cartoon around her, showing how she was rejected by a breeder as ‘unsellable’ because of her deformed hind legs, and how she was adopted and lived a happy life after. As an artist I took care of all the illustrations, posters and signboards that ACRES needed, and provided this service pro bono.”
Not only that...
... but how can Alpana forget catching her first cobra and python with ACRES? Or even rescuing baby squirrels and fledglings as a child, and adopting a husky from the SPCA ten years ago?
“I’ve always loved the outdoors, and I’ve always wanted to do something for animals. I was a dog lover who loved taking my children to the zoo. ACRES showed me the way and opened my eyes, and I slowly learnt and transformed,” she recounts.
“Doing wildlife rescues with ACRES is like a dream come true. It’s like being inside Nat Geo.”
If only others could see it and feel the same way too
“Sometimes the rigid people one has to deal with is frustrating – people who find birds noisy, who want nests removed because they are ‘noisy’, ‘smelly’ and ‘dirty’.
“I wish people would connect with nature, protect it and the wildlife and forests,” she stresses.
Think about it, says Alpana. “Protecting animals translates into protecting habitats and forests. Forests have always provided and sustained mankind, but in the last 50 years there seems to be a sort of madness to ‘develop’ cities,” she adds.
“Human actions can interfere in the balance of nature and disrupt the natural order of things. Humans think they are invincible, but the truth is that our actions are dooming our very existence. The earth will survive, she has been around for a really long time, but our future is uncertain.”
What’s more, “The earth belongs to animals as much as humans. Humans force animals to live by their rules. Animals have no answer to two of man’s inventions: guns and money. Animals feel the same emotions as humans – joy, love, grief and pain – and I just wish people would respect that.”
She believes it's not too late...
... for all of us to start helping and making a difference. “Volunteering in a field of our interest or passion brings us in contact with like-minded people. ACRES has many areas in which people can volunteer, such as animal care, gardening, organising a trip to ACRES, helping out at road shows, wildlife rescues, etc. So people can pick what best suits them.”
Yes, the work can be wonderful and heartbreaking at the same time, but Alpana shows no signs of slowing down.
“Meditation helps me deal with the heartbreak. My motto is to try my best and leave the results to God,” she says. And the results are worth it. “Releasing a wild animal after safely rescuing it is the most fulfilling part of volunteer work. To watch it go free gives me immense happiness.”
Alpana recounts: “Typically two people are on rescue all the time, a day shift and a night shift. The rescue hotline never shuts down.
“Callers alert ACRES to an injured or lost animal. Sometimes a snake can be in an outdoor location next to a canal or park connector. In such a case they are advised to leave it alone. In cases where the snake or monitor lizard is inside their house, the ACRES team will go to the location and pick up the animal.
“Very common calls are for nestlings. It’s a stage when they test their wings, fly out of nests and may look ‘lost’. We advise callers to stay at the spot and try to look for the adults who would be nearby.
“Some interesting cases include:
1. A cobra in a washing machine
2. A python stuck inside a pipe
3. A python entered a cage, ate the bird or chicken, and was now too fat to get out
4. A waterhen dropped from a rooftop into an air well and could not fly out
5. A civet fell into an air well and could not get out
6. A monitor lizard inside a toilet
7. A paradise tree snake inside a guard house
8. A bird stuck on a glue trap
9. A hawk owl entangled in a fishing line
10. A pangolin hit by a car
“Injured birds are sent to Jurong Bird Park. Injured animals are also sent to the zoo for treatment.
“Normally the rescue van is on the move islandwide attending to cases. One driver and the other handles the phone.“
They also have a 24-hour Wildlife Rescue Hotline at tel: 65 9783 7782, and a 24-hour Animal Crime Investigation Unit (ACIU) Hotline at tel: 65 9783 7782; email: email@example.com