Asrar Khan Usmani is twenty-two years old from Bangalore in India. People call him the Spiderman of Bangalore, or Spiderman of Bommanahalli, because he risks his life, and climbs buildings, to save animals – mainly cats, dogs, birds, and monkeys.
‘When I go up, I don’t think about how to come down,’ he says, because his focus is only on saving an animal in distress. ‘I know I’m risking my life and I might get very badly injured, but I have to be confident that I can do it. When I go up, I don’t think about how to come down. A few of the cases, I just climbed up, I saved the cat, and then I didn’t know how to come down. Then I have to sit and think about how to come down, and I do it easily. First, the animal should be saved and should not be injured because of me. Then I come down.’
He not only goes up, he also goes down – into drainage pipes and into collapsed buildings – and into every difficult place imaginable. He will go anywhere to save an animal. Animal rights, health, and safety are his passions.
Usmani’s regular job is a certified animal healer and surgeon’s assistant at the Cessna Lifeline Veterinary Hospital in Bangalore.
In addition to helping at the Veterinary Hospital, Usmani also works with firefighters and rescue teams to save animals in danger. As a volunteer with Bangalore’s Quick Response Team, he responds to emergencies, such as building collapses, by saving animals.
Usmani said his story began in 2013, at the age of 15, when he saw an injured dog. After calling many organisations and people for help, the dog remained in the same place for hours. He decided from then on to take matters into his own hands and save animals on his own. ‘From day one, a new life started by saving a life,’ Usmani says.
His school friends helped to drive Usmani around the city, and they also filmed his rescues to advertise his offer of assistance. He shared his phone number with friends, letting them know to call if they saw an injured or trapped animal.
He brought the animals he saved to veterinarians in the neighbourhood, and watched how they treated the animals in order to learn how to provide first aid to dogs, cats, birds, and more. He said this is how he learned basic techniques such as checking an animal’s heart rate, eyes, and tongue to recognise problems. His years of experience saving animals on the streets enabled him to get the job in the Cessna Lifeline Veterinary Hospital.
Still, even with his day job, he receives 15-20 phone calls a day asking him to help save trapped or injured animals. He has saved more than 200 so far, including buffaloes, monkeys, hawks, and peacocks.
Usmani never asks for payment for his rescue missions. Instead, he requests that people who are able to make a donation, do so, in order for him to continue saving animals on the streets of Bangalore.
What made Usmani famous as an animal rescuer was that he would courageously climb up buildings to save animals trapped in difficult places. He learned how to climb by watching mountain-climbers on Youtube videos and he says he observes animals, such as cats and monkeys, to learn the best way to scale trees and buildings. Usmani’s martial arts training may also play a role in his ability to climb up sheer heights, but he says that fearlessness and patience are really what makes it possible.
Usmani said that people prefer to call him rather than the local fire fighters because he knows how to communicate with animals and keep them calm. Also, in a few places, the fire brigade can’t approach the area, so now they call Asrar Khan Usmani. They know that Usmani can work well with animals, and communication with the animals is critical.
Usmani explains, ‘So you need to understand how to communicate. When I climb up, I stop. I tell the cat: ‘I can help you. Will you please cooperate with me so we can come back home?’ Then I can just hold it and it won’t do anything.’
When a building collapsed in Bangalore’s JP Nagar neighbourhood on 8 September 2019, animals from a store were stuck inside. ‘I thought that if I went inside, the building might collapse completely. But there was a dog in there, a goat in there. I thought if we don’t approach slowly and gently, we might lose all their lives. We went inside just five minutes, to bring out all the animals from the store. I was panicking. I was thinking, ‘The building might go down, just save them.’ And so, he did.
In addition to fearlessness and patience, Usmani said his empathy for animals also makes it possible to save them successfully.
“I can feel their emotions completely. I can see in their eyes that they’re in some danger, or in a problem. I can feel that I did something good today, saved a life. Especially an animal, who is not speaking, who is asking for help, but no one is helping. Every day I feel proud of myself that I did something good today, but I can do better tomorrow.’
[This blog is adapted from journalist Pariesa Young’s article in Observers for France 24 on September 7, 2020.]