Little Ayesha wouldn’t let go of her new comforter. It was a sight to watch her swing from branch to branch with the pillow tucked firmly in her hand. She flashed such a rocking smile when we gifted her the comforter and we were floored!” says Sharmishtha Desai, spouse of RI Director Manoj Desai. She was referring to her visit to the San Diego Zoo and Ayesha is a little orangutan there.
Vanathy Ravindran, Judy Germ, PDG Juliet Riseley, Sharmishtha and a few other spouses visited the San Diego Zoo. The trip was part of the International Assembly programme where a special tour is arranged every year for Rotarian spouses to volunteer for a unique cause.
This year they were taken to the Salk Institute of Biological Studies at La Jolla for an architectural tour and the San Diego Zoo, said Sharmishtha. The Salk Institute was founded by Dr Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine. Designed by the American architect Louis I Kahn (who has also designed IIM, Ahmedabad) the building is acclaimed as one of the world’s boldest structures and a modern architectural treasure.
Such trips sensitise people to value wildlife and take steps to preserve the endangered ones from becoming extinct.
– RID Manoj Desai
At the San Diego Zoo, the group volunteered in making comforters and toys for the animals. “We loved every moment there,” says Sharmishtha. They had to clean gunny bags, remove any labels or tags that would otherwise hurt the animals, fill them with hay and stitch them up on the sides, and lo, the comforters were ready! The animals in the zoo use them as playthings or pillows.
Next, they participated in making ‘enrichments’ for the animals out of dried gourds. Enrichments are things that stimulate the physical and mental health of the animals and encourage them to exhibit their natural behaviour. The team collected the gourds, cleaned them thoroughly, drilled holes to remove the fibrous pulp from inside and filled them with peanuts or seeds. These were given to the animals. Enrichments are as important as providing food and water to these animals, she says. Some play with the gourds, some try to remove the filling inside and finally even smash them to bits. The tigers and leopards also get into the act, simulating the act of hunting.
The century-old San Diego Zoo is part of the San Diego Zoo Global, a conservation organisation dedicated to saving endangered species worldwide.
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Desai too was involved in this voluntary work of a special kind. Such trips sensitise people to value wildlife and take steps to preserve endangered species from becoming extinct, he says adding, “the day was just great, but of course, the animals stole the show.”
Recalling last year’s programme, Sharmishtha said that the Rotary team packed meals specially formulated for malnourished children at the NGO ‘Feed my starving children.’ The organisation ships these packets to feed the hungry children in needy countries across the world.
Pictures by RID Manoj Desai