IT IS always a life or death situation for animal rescuer Francis Poh, as one wrong move may just kill him.
However, these close calls have not stopped Poh, 37, from doing the one thing he loves most – rescuing animals, be it reptiles, birds or other exotic creatures.
“Every time I receive a call to rescue something, there is always a chance that I could end up in hospital or go home with a bite, ” said Poh, who was hospitalised twice.
In one incident, a monitor lizard bit his fingers, leaving a very deep cut that could have left two of his fingers permanently numb.
“That was a traumatising moment for me because the pain was just too much to bear and I was hospitalised for seven days.
“I was also bitten by a python when I released it into the wild. It jumped out of the container and struck my hand, ” said Poh, adding that the same python also bit him when it was first captured.
What keeps Poh going is his love for animals and passion to save them.
“I love the feeling I get just as I am about to rescue an animal. I cannot really describe it, but it is a powerful and silent moment where all my worries fade away, ” he said.
Poh’s love for animals started at a young age when he found himself drawn to programmes like National Geographic and doing research on animals.
He fondly recalled his childhood days when he would lie to his grandmother about needing to be at school as early as 6am, as he wanted to catch fish in the drain and other insects like grasshoppers in the field.
Poh’s rescue work started by him feeding and saving stray animals in his neighbourhood, before moving on to also rescuing reptiles and birds.
His first rescue was a wolf snake in Subang Jaya in 2011 after a tip-off from his friend.
“I was an amateur then and unprepared. I just went in and caught it with my bare hands and released it into the wild, ” said Poh, who did not disclose where he released the rescued animals, merely saying it was some 70km away from the city.
There are some animals that he is allowed to keep as domestic pets at home, including turtles or snakes. Once, he took care of 50 animals in his home.
Now, he is well-equipped with two snake hooks in his car, gloves and even a helmet with a torchlight attached to it.
Word soon spread and he was inundated with calls to rescue exotic animals such as bats, owls, pangolin, red ear slider (kura-kura hijau), soft shell turtle and even a stork.
“I did not know what to do when I had to rescue an injured stork, but I went anyway and took it home and went about finding it a new home.
“I finally got in touch in with Zoo Negara officers who told me that the stork was from Sri Lanka and that they did get migrating storks that stop at the zoo’s pond for a rest.
“I immediately passed the stork over to them, ” he said.
He was once called to pick up a dozen monitor lizard eggs which he kept at home until they hatched after six months.
“I received two calls to rescue eggs, twice in the same day. But at the second venue the eggs were found submerged in a drain and could not be saved.”
Poh has so far saved more than 150 creatures, which were either released into the wild or put up for adoption.
His most memorable rescue was a dog which was left for dead on a two-feet wide ledge on the seventh floor of a building.
“I grabbed my rock climbing gear and went with my friends.
“It was scary because none of my friends knew how to operate the harness and gear, but I was more concerned about rescuing the dog, ” said Poh, who works in the entertainment industry.
He said he was thankful for the support on social media, which also helped raise funds to sustain his rescue efforts.
In order to find a home for stray cats and dogs, Poh stands on the street with a sign hung around his neck which reads “Rescued puppy/kitten for adoption”.
“I do this despite the hot weather because it gets more attention than me putting it on Facebook, ” he said.
The longest Poh has spent standing on the street to find a stray a new home was eight days, for eight hours each day.
“I’m quite picky with those who show interest in adopting. I will interview them and listen to my instincts before handing the cat or dog over, ” he said.
To protect the animals from the sun and keep them comfortable, Poh would bring along an umbrella, ice packs and fans.
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