Professional Dog Trainer and Behaviourist

Write Ups and An Interview

A newspaper article that appeared in The PUNE TIMES, 30th April, 2002

If this bunch of teenagers were to produce an essay on how they spend their summer vacations, it would make exiting reading. Saurabh Marathe, Neha Vaiday & Meera Thosar, have a vacation chart that is the envy of most kids. No, they didn’t spend large sums of money to attend exotic summer camps or go off on adventure trips. Volunteers at the Katraj Snake Park, the three swear that there’s no other way they would rather spend their summer holidays.

“I think that it's the most exciting way to pass your summer,” says 17-year-old Neha, who joined Katraj Snake Park almost a year ago.

An avid animal buff, Neha has always been interested in animals, particularly since she was never allowed to keep a pet of her own. “It was an unwritten rule that no animals were allowed in the house,” she says. “Consequently, I started adopting pets in the neighborhood. But one trip to Katraj Snake Park, where a friend used to volunteer, and I decided that I should be volunteering here.”

A student of Fergusson College, Neha’s obsession leads her to travel 12 km away from home every day so that she can be near her newly adopted pets. It’s a different story that most of them happen to be snakes, squirrels, hyenas and other wild animals.

Like Neha, 18-yera-old Meera Thosar is also a regular face at the Katraj Snake Park. A volunteer for the past four years. Meera’s seniority is reflected in the adept way she handles the non-poisonous snakes that seem to coil around her hands with affection. “I started off with watering the plants and cleaning the cages of the animals. It was only after a year that I was allowed to handle animals and another year before I was promoted to actually holding the non-poisonous snakes, I'm looking forward to training that will teach me how to handle poisonous snakes,” she says excitedly.

The fact that she’s already been bitten a couple of times by the snakes doesn’t seem to bother her, “Snakes do not attack without being provoked,” she says. “I must have made a mistake in handling them and that’s why they reacted that way.” In fact, Meera is well known for her gentle handling of birds and animals and she is regularly assigned by the park to handle live rescues, Between January to April this year, Meera has rescued some 50 kites from accidents and death.

All of 14 years, Saurabh joined the snake park when he was 10. The youngest of all the volunteers, Saurabh’s enthusiasm has been an inspiration for everyone at the Katraj Snake Park. A student of Abhinav Vidyalaya, he has spent all his holidays in the past four years volunteering to help with the animals. “I plan to be a vet when I grow up,” he declares. He’s also sure that he would rather spend his time helping take care of the animals, birds and reptiles in the park, than play roadside cricket.

If anybody has their heads set firmly on their shoulders, this trio definitely does.

The Rescued Toddy Cat, 2003

A newspaper article that appeared in The PUNE TIMES, 20th August, 2003

Struggling for freedom, this wild one wanted to do it with a difference. A toddy cat, or a common palm civet, which belongs to the civet tribe, decided to knock at the doors of the District Court. It put in a surprise visit early morning while Independence Day celebrations were on at the District Court complex in Shivajinagar. While 2000 men waited with an intention to kill as soon as it came out of its hiding. Meera Thosar, a young animal activist working as a volunteer was the only one fighting hard to save it from injury.

The animal, which had probably taken shelter in the complex for the night was jolted out of her sleep by the officials preparing for the day’s ceremonies, and strayed into the main hall, scaring the living daylights out of the crowd. The feline with her brilliant yellowish brown coat marked with an exotic mix of tiger like strips, leopard like spots and a bushy tail, suddenly became the centre of attention.

The crowd that included the District Court staff, mainly wanted the animal to vacate the hall, which was the venue for a cultural event that was to follow. Unable to dissuade the crowd, Meera sought help and was assisted by Maruti Hoshi, a journalist who kept the crowd away till the rescue team could actually arrive.

The two and half year old animal played cat-and-mouse for more than four hours at dawn on Friday, putting the District Court administration in a tizzy with her frenzied feline antics. As the chief guest was on his way, the organizers of the function were keen to chase the animal out. A few self styled ‘jungle-boys’ formed a mob and wielded sticks and stones to chase the hapless animal, till someone called up a group of wildlife exerts and rescuers.

“I got a call around 5.30 am and immediately rushed for the site. This toddy cat had entered the ‘pooja’ hall,” recalls Meera Thosar, a student who volunteers in wild animal rescue, adding “the people were more keen on the functions and wanted to remove the animal at all costs. They were all set to kill it when our team reached.”

According to folklore, this animal with its distinctive markings and a peculiar non-feline snout-like face, is regarded as being ‘evil’. Locals say that the cat often splits open human skulls and feeds on the brain!

Another myth tells of how the cat often disappears with human babies, which it later feeds on. Animal experts however, dismiss this as hogwash. Toddy cats and civets are common in the woods in the Shivajinagar area. The courts are in a green area where the cats go for a night’s rest. After some high drama of another two hours, the exhausted animal was eventually captured and sent to the shelter where it will ‘de-stress’ for a few weeks before being released in the forests.

Toddy cats are small, longish and low-to-ground animals with long tails, only a little larger than a big mongoose and nocturnal, so that they are unlikely to be seen on a regular basis. The name ‘toddy cat’ is derived from the name for wine, that is extracted from the sap of the palm tree, toddy. Both sexes have scent glands underneath their tail that resemble testicles. They can spry a noxious secretion from this gland.

The common palm civet is primarily frugivorous, but is omnivorous. It feeds mostly on berries and fleshy fruits. It will also eat birds, rodents and insects. It spends the day asleep in tree hollows and steps out in the dark. This particular toddy cat was fortunate enough to be spotted and rescued. But what about the others? There may be many such animals seeking shelter in the court premises during the night. Will all of them have to go through the same ‘ritual’ before celebrating their ‘ freedom’?