As children, most of us were taught that kindness and compassion are the two best qualities a person can possess. These values are perhaps most important when we give our attention to the animals we care about; no matter who you are, or where you come from, there truly is no greater joy than showing love to animals in need.
For Joseph Sekhar, known as the “Birdman of Chennai”, a single selfless act of kindness would ultimately change his fate and the fate of thousands of animals after a tropical storm left an unexpected surprise on his doorstep. You may have heard stories of people devoting their lives to animals before, but this guy takes it to a whole new level.
When Joseph Sekhar moved his family to Chennai, India in the early 1990s, his intentions were clear-cut: start a business, make a living, and provide for himself and his loved ones. Unsure of where to begin, he looked to his personal passions for the answer.
A lover of photography from a young age, Sekhar quickly found his footing as a camera repairman and soon opened his own shop in the city of Royapettah.
Though cameras were his passion, Sekhar also made time to care for the local wildlife and could often be found feeding the squirrels and sparrows of the area. But little did he know that these small acts of kindness would soon change his life…
On one fateful day, following India’s 2004 tsunami, a pair of ring-necked parakeets appeared on Sekhar’s doorstep. Seeing the poor shape they were in, Sekhar decided to feed them as well.
The parakeets returned the next day, only this time they brought friends. The two parakeets became 10, those 10 became 20, and 20 became a hundred…
Pretty soon, thousands of these parakeets began descending on Sekhar’s modest shanty in search of a meal, and big-hearted Sekhar was more than happy to oblige.
Fourteen years later, Sekhar is still at it, feeding between four and six thousand parakeets every single day. As you can imagine, feeding a flock of birds this large is no small task.
Every morning, Sekhar sets his alarm for 4:30 a.m. to begin preparing pots of rice for his birds’ 6 a.m. arrival. Small birds, small appetite, right? Don’t bet on it.
On an average day, Sekhar cooks nearly 60 kg (130 pounds) of rice for his birds—a morning meal fit for a king! But the work doesn’t end there.
The 62-year-old Sekhar then lugs the rice to the rooftop where a dozen wooden planks serve as a buffet table for his feathered friends. With a skilled hand, Sekhar places hundreds of piles of rice for the coming feast.
Buying enough rice to feed the birds is a significant expense for Sekhar, accounting for almost half of his yearly salary. For a man making roughly $13/hour, it’s clear that these birds mean the world to him, and the lengths he’ll go to to protect them are just as incredible.
The Hindustan Times
While Sekhar purchases most of the rice himself, he also receives donations from time to time from people who admire his mission. Always wary of what he feeds his birds, Sekhar makes sure to eat the first handful of rice himself in order to see if it’s safe.
The health of his birds is so important, in fact, that Sekhar actively shelters and nurses injured parakeets back to health and has even gone as far as discouraging buses from honking outside his shop to avoid frightening the birds.
The New York Post
“I feel responsible for them,” Sekhar said. “I remember how during the cyclone, I fed them non-stop in the rain with a raincoat on.”
Sekhar’s story has spread far and wide, earning him renown as “The Birdman of Chennai”. Even his neighbors can’t help but marvel at the scene that unfolds outside their windows each day…
“Watching [Sekhar] feed parrots is a majestic thing and a spectacular sight,” a neighbor said of the daily ritual. “Many people pass this way and stand and watch for a long time.” But the crowds may not continue for much longer…
According to Sekhar, he’s been given eviction orders by his landlords, who are looking to demolish the entire lot. While this poses serious consequences for Sekhar and his family, it may mean an even worse fate for his birds.
“[T]hey will suffer initially, like a newcomer in a city, lost without a direction,” lamented Sekhar. “I don’t want to put them through it.”
While Sekhar’s landlords are open to selling the property to someone interested in preserving the birds, Sekhar has come up with a plan of his own. With the funds from selling his lifelong collection of 4,500 vintage cameras, he hopes to raise enough money to buy the plot himself.
“I’m willing to let go of [my cameras] for the sake of my birds,” Sekhar said proudly. “After all, what’s more important than love?”
New Indian Express
People have warned throughout the centuries that you have to be careful around wildlife. but as the Birdman of Chennai has shown us, animals surprise us more often than we realize. And this was exactly the case for a Costa Rican farmer who rescued a dangerous beast.
Gilberto ‘Chito’ Shedden was a pretty typical farmer and fisherman in Siqquires, Costa Rica. He did have a flair for showmanship, which brought him to sometimes give tours of the province.
In 1989, Chito was strolling along the banks of the Reventazón River. It was a peaceful day, but little did he realize that danger was lurking nearby.
He locked eyes with a fully-grown male crocodile, a fierce hunter with an iron jaw who wouldn’t shirk from going after humans from time to time. Was Chito the featured special on today’s menu?
Strangely, the croc didn’t move an inch. Chito overcame his initial dread and inspected the beast. On top of being fairly underweight, it was suffering from a serious head injury.
It appeared that someone shot the reptile in the head and left it for dead. It was most likely a cattle rancher trying to defend his herd from predators.
The crocodile didn’t appear the least bit hostile. Out of compassion, Chito loaded it into his boat and brought him home. His family wasn’t exactly thrilled, of course.
But Chito was determined to earn this beast’s trust. Whenever he got a chance, he went out to feed it fish and chicken, while also trying to get it used to petting and human contact.
Before too long, the crocodile became completely healthy and docile. Chito named it Pocho, after the Costa Rican term for ‘strong.’ They were practically inseparable.
He even managed to get his wife and daughter to warm up to Pocho by sticking his arms inside its mouth. It would be crazy to do with any other crocodile, but Pocho wouldn’t hurt a fly.
How was this possible? A nature photographer who met Pocho theorized that the head wound damaged the part of his brain that makes crocodiles aggressive toward other animals.
As Chito continued to train Pocho, word got out about the fisherman with the friendly pet crocodile. More and more people wanted to see it, but Chito was afraid of getting in trouble with the law.
Chito did the responsible thing and obtained a permit from the police to become Pocho’s legal guardian. That had to be the most interesting paperwork the office filled out that day!
Flickr / Doug Morris
Now that all the pieces were in place, Chito announced that he and Pocho were going to put on a show like no other. A large crowd gathered along the riverbank on the big day.
Diving right into the water with his scaly friend, Chito cycled through an amazing array of stunts. He swam circles around the croc, stuck his head underneath its legs, and even opened up its mouth for a peek inside.
The crowd went wild. Pocho and Chito were a sensation, and they even went on to star in their own documentary, ‘The Man Who Swims With Crocodiles.’
For 20 years, crowds from all over the globe came to watch Pocho and Chito perform. They always gasped when they saw Pocho’s size, but the beast never once harmed Chito.
Besides gaining local fame, Pocho became a true member of the Shedden family. Though Chito’s wife did get pretty mad when he admitted that he might love Pocho more than her!
YouTube / National Geographic
Even when there was no show happening, Chito would spend as much time as possible with the crocodile. There was nothing he enjoyed more than swimming and cuddling with his unusual pet.
Sadly, Pocho died of natural causes in 2011. When Chito held an elaborate funeral to honor his one-of-a-kind companion, throngs of fans and admirers turned up to pay their respects.
But Chito can always be proud of how far he came with Pocho, and what they accomplished together. Where the world saw a monster, he discovered a true friend.