Remembering Marco

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2008:
(Actual publication date 11-5-08.)
Remembering Marco by Geeta Seshamani
The September 2008 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE included a photograph of a donkey named Marco, with a memorial for him from ANIMAL PEOPLE artist Wolf Clifton and president Kim Bartlett.
An editor s note on page six mentioned that after rescuing Marco while traveling in India in January 2007, Bartlett funded an equine care mobile unit to help the working donkeys and horses along the heavily traveled Agra/Delhi corridor, and added that the unit is operated by Friendicoes SECA, which already had an equine unit in Delhi.
There was much more to the story.


Marco stood quivering and frightened on the Delhi Agra freeway with speeding trucks whizzing past. He was limping, trying to get to safety. Kim and Wolf spotted him as they were driving to Delhi after a visit to the Wildlife SOS Agra Bear Sanctuary.
Kim was in tears when she saw Marco s plight. A few phone calls later, a Friendicoes SECA Animal Ambulance rescued Marco. Marco soon settled down in the Friendicoes SECA Gurgoan Sanctuary just outside Delhi.
Marco was patient and brave, despite the trauma he had been through. But most importantly Marco brought help to hundreds of his kind. Friendicoes had operated an equine mobile treatment unit to help working donkeys, ponies, and mules since 1984, but had not been able to expand operations beyond Delhi and its immediate environs. Inspired by Marco, Kim made this happen.
At our sanctuary Marco became the big brother in residence. He was a very large donkey. The other donkeys respected his age and size. He had trouble reaching the fodder trough and water trough, because of his chronic limp, but no one jostled or nipped him.
When Marco first came to the Sanctuary he wore the resigned look that our rescued donkeys always have. His hind leg dragged where an old hoof injury or a badly set fracture had twisted it, and he was all bones, having never been fed well and having been abandoned when he became disabled.
After he was abandoned, life for Marco probably went from bad to worse. His only food appeared to have been nibbles of dry dusty grass by the roadside, and his fate seemed likely to be either getting hit by a truck or suffering a slower death from starvation, dehydration and sickness.
But the Lord of small things decreed otherwise and Marco s rescue that night also saved the life of one of the boys who work on the sanctuary, who had been the victim of a hit and run accident and was lying on the road unconscious, beside his smashed motorcycle, when the van hauling Marco happened by.
At the Friendicoes SECA sanctuary a blind mare began standing as close to Marco as she could, and then feeding with him from the same trough. Marco didn t seem to object and stood there patiently while she nuzzled and groomed him. It was a source of quiet satisfaction to us to watch Marco steadily gain weight, have his wounds dressed, lying in the sun, and to watch him gaining in confidence as he strolled around our small field and had his occasional sand bath.
Marco chose to keep the orphaned donkey babies company, and was an odd sight towering over them, bending down to nibble at their necks. Can male donkeys show such family behavior? my staff would ask, having only seen donkeys as beasts of burden.
Summer came to Friendicoes with blazing heat, but then the most unlikely rains began and never stopped. The continuous downpour and huge quantities of water swamped the sanctuary. The donkey shed was damaged by high winds, and the donkeys were moved to the cow shed. The cows were moved to the dog rooms. The dogs were moved to the roofs.
During this trying time Marco developed a respiratory condition.
The sanctuary vet shifted Marco to his residence. We lit a fire to dry out the damp walls of the room and treated Marco with antibiotics. At times he rallied and seemed more comfortable. Other times Marco sat on the hay bed or stood in discomfort.
We called for veterinary advice from other shelters. Our equine vet visited almost daily to attend to Marco. He seemed to recover and looked better, so we brought the blind mare to be with him. When she joined him, Marco rose to greet her and playfully nudged her. We thought Marco was eating better.
Three days later Marco passed away at night without a struggle, quietly like a dignified elderly angel. The mare stood over him. Her sorrow was shared by all as we led her back to the main stable and prepared Marco for his burial.
All our pets have tulsi angans, which are tombstones with basil planted inside them, basil being a holy plant. Marco was buried with prayers with his own tulsi angan.
The rains abated soon afterward and the sanctuary returned to its normal dry state, but we felt the loss of Marco, as did the blind mare when the donkeys were next let out to walk and play.
We receive many animals and people often ask whether we really notice when we lose one.
Yes, yes indeed. Each for us is a person good, sad, funny, or dignified and wise. Each makes a place in our hearts. Each has wisdom that comes from having suffered. Each death resounds in our sanctuary, leaving a gap that takes time to soothe and fill in.

[Geeta Seshamani founded Friendicoes SECA in 1979, and cofounded Wildlife SOS, with Kartick Satyanarayan, in 1997. Donations to Friendicoes in memory of Marco may be sent c/o ANIMAL PEOPLE.]
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