Saud operates on a black eared kite
Nadeem and Saud have invited me home to observe their days work at the kite rescue centre. The day starts on the roof, cleaning the open aviary. I barely have time to make a quick sketch before Nadeem hurries me downstairs past the rooms where Saud lives with his family and to the basement. The basement garage is also the heart of their family business, I greet a couple of men squat on the floor merrily constructing soap dispensers before Nadeem beckons me into his office. I find a space behind the door, and a chair below a white board displaying a chart of details for the latest inpatients. At a desk below a window looking onto the 'factory floor' sits the vet. He has come to carry out autopsies, but is presently writing in a large ledger that the brothers keep for recording all the birds that pass through their doors. As I wait, my attention is drawn to a soft mewing coming from a plastic lidded cat box. Opening it I find a black winged kite, half the size of it's black cousin. The office is cramped and when Saud and Nadeem enter the kite gets passed around to make more space. Once settled, I draw it, a juvenile brought in 10 days ago and needing regular feeds through a syringe. The autopsies begin, two kites and a brown fish owl, the former died from food toxicity. As Saud leads me out I notice another cage in the office, three kites, one has died over night Saud explains, as he removes the rigid paper light corpse.
After lunch with the family, we are up in the rooftop aviary again. Nadeem, Saud and cousin Salik are assessing the fitness of some kites they hope to release. Saud measures the birds and assesses general look of fitness, before Salik lets them fly from his hands. 4 flop to the ground after a limp flight, 3 make it with powerful flight to the end of the cage. Nadeem videos them, an important documentation of how treated kites recover their ability to fly. We drive three cardboard boxes, each containing a kite to their release site. A tranquil spot near a meandering river on a still evening with a pink blushed sky, music wafting from a nearby temple. The kites are one by one placed on the ground and fly up into the sunset. I thought this would be a fitting end to the days work, but was soon to discover Saud and Nadeem's work had barely begun.
Back at home, we are in the office again and Saud is preparing to operate on 6 kites and a barn owl rescued that day. He tells me this is a normal intake during this the slow off season time of year. 3 of the kites are euthanased another three have a good chance of recovery after operation. Over the years the brothers have struggled to find vets with the level of expertise to operate on bird wings, since there is little commercial call for such work. Instead the brothers have learnt to carry out operations themselves. Five years ago they made the decision that Saud should focus on this work, gaining the most experience to now do all the operations. Their expertise in operating on bird wings, is now greatly valued with professionals seeking their advice on best practice. It is 7pm when the first bird is anaesthetised and Saud begins work. Each bird has a wing injury caused by collision with manja kite thread and each operation takes about an hour of hard concentration. Saud describes the injury of the last bird to be operated on, a black eared kite. Tendons and one of its two biceps in the right wing have been severed entirely, the wound is about 12 days old and the bicep has dried up. Saud deftly stitches the severed bicep muscle, hopefully once recovered it will have enough power in the remaining bicep to fly. The wing is bandaged closed and numbered before the kite is placed in a small cage to recover. The days work complete at around 10pm, we head out to attend a family wedding ceremony near Jama Masjid. Saud stays home, to recover from an illness he has struggled with all day.