Karuna’s Story

In today’s world, fishing methods can be quite brutal. Instead of using small nets, harpoons, and fishing poles, fishing boats drag gigantic nets across the water, sweeping up anything in its path, and gill nets ensnare fish unlucky enough to be passing by. Fishermen using these methods catch so many fish that overfishing has now actually become a real problem. But worst of all, fish aren’t always the only creatures that these nets trap. Turtles will sometimes accidentally get caught in these nets as bycatch, and when this happens, they are usually doomed to die an agonizing death. Many of them drown or starve while entangled, and sometimes uneducated fishermen actually cut their flippers off and drop them back in instead of calling for help.

Karuna, an Olive Ridley Turtle was one of these unfortunate creatures. One day, Karuna was cruising through the bay bay of Bengal, heading towards the shore. Just like all female Olive Ridleys did when they were came of age, she had traveled thousands of miles and was heading towards the beach where she was born to lay her own eggs. All of a sudden, she found herself tangled in a gill net she had unintentionally wandered into. Feeling a pull on their net, the fishermen who had set it raised Karuna out of the water. They had no idea what to do about it, so they decided to simply cut her front flippers and right rear flipper off and drop her back in. It was a cruel fate indeed, after all, how could a creature of the sea survive without all its appendages?

Later, after being tossed around helplessly by the waves and bleeding enormously, Karuna washed ashore, gasping from blood loss and experiencing unbearable pain. Luckily, at the same time, Rajesh, a KAP officer was taking a walk on the beach. He found the poor creature lying on the sand, and immediately brought her to Supraja Dharini, an environmental activist and founder of the Tree Foundation, the organization I have the privilege of working with. She was shocked at the sight of dying animal, and immediately felt sympathy for her. She decided to adopt her. When she was rescued, a veterinarian was called in to do surgery and stitch Karuna’s open wounds. Eventually she was placed in a tank with a solution of freshwater and saltwater.

Sadly, spending all those days helpless and bleeding in the ocean had drained Karuna of her will to live, so she refused to eat. However, Supraja couldn’t let her die just yet, and Karuna was force fed through a drip system. Supraja had dedicated her life to preserving the lives of innocent animals, and would not make any exceptions for this one. Eventually, Karuna got used to her treatment and regained her health. She came to Supraja’s house as a guest, but has now gone on to becoming a permanent member of her family.

Karuna still lives in her tank at Supraja’s office today, and I am proud to say I have been given the privilege of attending to her. Almost every day, I go to the office and help Ravi, a fisherman working with Supraja, as well as other volunteers in keeping Karuna happy and healthy. First, I hand-feed fish to her, being careful to not let my hand get snapped by her powerful beak. Then, we lift her out of her tank, place her on a table, and I proceed to pour water over her and give her a good scrubbing with a sponge soaked in a mixture of water and turmeric powder. At the same time, Ravi empties out the tank and washes it with chlorine. After that, we proceed to fill the tank with fresh groundwater from a hose and seawater we collected at the beach nearby. We must also wait for Karuna to defecate, as this will show how well she is digesting her food. Although she is healthy now, Karuna is still permanently disfigured. She is always flapping the stubs where her flippers once were, dying to swim in the small space that she has, and her life is completely dependent on humans. Under her endless reptilian smile, there could be a miserable soul. Some people believe so, including my grandfather, and suggest mercy killing. However, although what they say about her may be true, we simply can’t let her die. Each wild turtle is a representative of its entire kind. When I look at Karuna, I can imagine the rest of her species, the way they live, and the cruelty and misfortune they face. It would be a great mistake to kill such a being.

In the same house there is another tank containing a young green turtle, Greenie, also brought in after being caught by fishermen. Fortunately, the fishermen informed Supraja, and he/she (too young to decide, but I prefer to think of her as a girl) came in one piece. We do the same things for her that we do for Karuna, but for some reason, I seem to have developed more of a connection with the Olive Ridley. Maybe it’s because she eagerly snaps the fish from my hand when I lower it down. Or maybe it’s that she is so cooperative when I pick her up and wash her (of course, that could simply be because she has only one flipper, but I prefer not to think about that.)  Or it could be that when I imagine her in the ocean, with all her fins, shining in all her glory, she is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen.

    • Vidya
    • August 3rd, 2010

    Karuna’s story brought tears to my eyes.

    I also think Dr. Dharani did a good thing in saving Karuna’s life rather than letting the turtle die. If nothing else, she has made you (and me) aware of the dangers of irresponsible fishing and hopefully we will do something about it. Karuna can also educate the fisher people and maybe help save future turtles. not a life lived in vain.

    • meena
    • August 17th, 2010

    Dearest Naren, Thank you for showing compassion for our fellow creatures. The cruel treatment of Karuna made me feel angry. Do you know that Karuna means compassion? Isn’t it so sad that as human beings capable of thought, our fellow human beings could not think beyond their immediate needs? Have you looked into why fisherman cut off Karuna’s flippers? Could they not have taken a few minutes to release her safely? Should their nets be designed differently? I hope you will continue to write and advocate on behalf of these voiceless beings.

    • Vivek
    • September 4th, 2010

    Good job Naren! Impressive that you sacraficed the majority of your summer to help wonderful creatures such as turtles. It was a great help toward an endangered species and always remember that you made a critical difference.

  1. August 8th, 2010

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