In a bid to help the city's ponies from the cruelty meted out by their "owners", In Defense of Animals, India (IDA India) has started organizing pony camps. "Ponies are used in Mumbai city for joy rides and to draw carts (buggies). The buggies are overloaded with people and the weak, emaciated ponies are whipped mercilessly and made to run at break neck speed, for a few minutes of pleasure to the joy riders," explains, Sudnya Patkar, Hon. Secretary, IDA, India.
Initially, IDA India members were seeking a ban on buggies. "Only a pony drawing a cart can be whipped mercilessly and made to run at great speed, whereas a pony giving ride to a single rider cannot be made to gallop," explains Ms. Vivienne Choudhry, Managing Committee Member of IDA India and an active volunteer on this project. IDA India began by holding a campaign on Sunday 28th November 2004 at NCPA, Nariman Point, when nearly 80 volunteers assembled with black clothes to protest against the buggies and wore jackets with messages of compassion. They held placards and banners and held a silent march along the Marine Drive to make people aware about the cruelty meted out to the ponies and requested them to boycott buggies, and ride the ponies only if they are in good health. IDA India also took up this issue at the highest level with the Mumbai Police, to ensure that licences issued to the buggies were not renewed, and those plying without licences were confiscated.
However, having done all this, realization dawned that it is practically impossible to sustain this sort of pressure on people who make a living out of these ponies. "They lie low for a while and then come back into the business or they change location and continue using ponies for joy rides," points out Sudnya Patkar. Therefore, IDA India decided to change its strategy. Instead of seeking a ban on these rides, it has been decided to counsel these people to take better care of their animals, give their animals nutritious food and medical care, and explain to them that it is in mutual interest of the "owner" and animal if the animal is well looked after.
Volunteer groups have been formed, each headed by a qualified veterinarian, to visit the sites where such rides are going on, to check the health of the animals and to counsel the pony "owners". "If they do not listen to reason, then we warn them of the ultimate action - which will entail the animal being confiscated. This way they would loose their livelihood," says Vivienne Choudhry. Thus by coaxing, counseling and threatening, IDA India hopes to improve the lives of these ponies.
The first such project started in Ghatkopar on 28th August 2005, when IDA India tended to seven ponies. Since then, several camps more camps have been held and gradually more and more people have started bringing their ponies to IDA India's camps. "Some of the "owners" have responded to counseling and there has been a marked improvement in the way they are treating the ponies, but some of them are hard nuts to crack," points out Ms. Priya Somaiya, an active volunteer who heads the Ghatkopar Group.
"One such pony "owner" in Ghatkopar had three ponies, all in extremely bad condition. Despite their horrible condition and our vet advising him to rest the animals, he kept on putting them to work for long hours every day. The animals had sores all over their backs, but he still he would put the saddle on them and with the saddle constantly rubbing the wounds, the wounds got infected and began oozing with puss," says Ankit Thakkar, another active volunteer from Ghatkopar. "This man has no sympathy for the ponies, though he earns nearly Rs. 400 every day from each one, he is not willing to spend even Rs. 5 on medicine," he adds.
Ultimately one of his horses named 'Rambo' became so sick that IDA India had to pick him up for hospitalization. Even while picking him up, the man callously commented that 'the horse is going to die in any case, so why take all this effort on him'. Unfortunately Rambo succumbed despite best of efforts. He was found to be completely anemic and mal-nourished. To avoid a similar situation, blood tests were conducted on other ponies, and given appropriate treatment on time.
The project, which was flagged off on Sunday 28th August 2005, has started showing positive results in two months. The condition of the other ponies has improved considerably - they are healthier, better cared for and more importantly their "owners" have started cooperating. The loss of one pony has probably made them to understand the importance of giving timely medical aid to their ponies. Presently 17 ponies are coming to the camp regularly.
The condition of ponies at Nariman Point is improved slightly compared to previous condition, but the progress is not up to the mark. The "owners" there are not very cooperative, and do not listen to reason. They also make the animals over-work, with the result there is no opportunity for them to recover from their ailments. This is therefore a challenge for IDA India, to change the mind set of these "owners" and to see that the condition of ponies at Nariman Point improves.