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Rescuers brave Indonesian volcano’s eruptions to save pets
Published on: Monday, May 06, 2024
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Rescuers brave Indonesian volcano’s eruptions to save pets
A volunteer carries a wounded dog in Sitaro, North Sulawesi, rescued from the foot of Mount Ruang, in the background. (AFP pic)
TAGULANDANG: An Indonesian volunteer returns from a dangerous rescue mission to a remote island where a volcano recently unleashed huge eruptions, cradling an abandoned, emaciated dog covered in burn blisters.

Mount Ruang in Indonesia’s northernmost region has erupted more than half a dozen times since April 16, stirring a spectacular mix of ash, lava and lightning that forced the island’s residents to be permanently relocated and thousands more evacuated.

But while locals have fled, a team of volunteers have been travelling to Ruang by boat on daring rescue missions to save abandoned pets from the foot of the volcano, which remains at its highest alert level.

“We know that they (the animals) are still there. How can we let them die while we know they are still alive?” 31-year-old volunteer Laurent Tan told AFP on Saturday.

Laurent, the owner of two animal shelters in the North Sulawesi provincial capital of Manado, is one of eight volunteers who has made the six-hour ferry journey to Ruang’s neighbouring Tagulandang island several times following the eruptions.

On one of their missions to the island’s ash-covered homes, they retrieved an unnamed pup, a white cat, and a bright turquoise-and-white tropical bird.

The dog, a female with burns on her face and body, was brought to a makeshift shelter on Tagulandang, where a veterinarian treated her on a wooden desk while a volunteer held up a mobile phone flashlight.

She appeared to have survived the eruptions by taking shelter in a large gutter. The surrounding village above ground was destroyed, Laurent said.

The group, made up of volunteers from animal welfare organisations, deployed for a second time on Friday after some pet owners made desperate social media appeals for them to evacuate their pets. The group has since rescued “a lot” of animals, she added.

An AFP journalist at the scene said more than a dozen animals had been rescued since Friday.

Some owners learnt their pets were still alive after seeing them in pictures of Ruang island in the media.

‘Their lives matter’

Authorities told locals to evacuate outside a seven-kilometre exclusion zone around the crater, which was lowered to 5km today, with around 11,000 people earmarked for evacuation.

As of yesterday, more than 5,000 people from Tagulandang have been evacuated, the national disaster mitigation agency said, while all of Ruang’s residents — more than 800 — have been taken for permanent relocation.

Authorities warned of the potential of flying rocks, lava flows and tsunamis due to debris sliding into the sea.

But despite the risks, the volunteers got to work.

One climbed over the fence of an abandoned house to rescue several dogs left behind by their owner, before handing them over to vet Hendrikus Hermawan.

Hendrikus said the owner had asked the volunteers to help rescue the dogs, which included a five-month-old puppy.

Many of the rescued animals appeared hungry and stressed after their owners left them, he told AFP.

“The first treatment we do here is to give food and additional vitamins to relieve their stress,” he said, adding that the animals could survive as long as they were nourished.

The volunteers aim to rescue all the dogs, cats and birds threatened by the volcano, bring them to Manado and reunite them with their owners, said Laurent.

While the initial focus of the eruptions is on their impact on humans, the volunteer said animals should not be forgotten.

“Our main focus is the animals. Many people have already received help, but these animals had no help,” she said.

“For me, their lives matter. We consider them part of our family.”

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