DAY 210: I’VE OPENED UP A CAN OF BEARS
I’ve arrived at the bear sanctuary run by Wildlife SOS in the middle of the Indian forest/jungle.
‘Coochi-coo’, I whisper through the electric fence.
A fluffy bear races up to me, stands on his back legs and then lets out a vast roar. I jump back.
These are the rescued dancing bears AKA ‘sloth bears’ – large, black and deceptively cute until they show their claws.
How – I wonder – can I help a bear that is strong enough to rip my face off?
These impressive bears are the fruit of Kartick and Wildlife SOS’s monumental efforts.
For many generations a small population of Indians have stolen cubs from their mothers and reared them to dance for money in the streets. Using a hot poker, a rope was threaded through their sensitive snout which then became a leash for life. A tug on it hurt so much the bears stood up ….and danced (I presume they did so as elegantly as the Spanish dogs who are hung from trees ‘play the piano’)
Kartick’s solution to this problem drew criticism.
Not only did he rescue ALL the bears from the streets and give them a home for life but he also turned the ‘poachers into protectors’ by giving jobs to the very people that owned the bears in the first place.
‘People said we should punish these people rather than give them money. But they weren’t necessarily bad. They needed to make a living. You have to provide an alternative income to stop the problem coming back all over again.’
It makes sense.
How many bears can I help a few weeks?
‘And how long did it take to rescue the first bear?’ I ask Kartick.
‘Oh!’ he says, raising his eyes up ‘years! We had to work with the government and find a sanctuary and raise the money and then deal with…’
My mind shrinks inwards. I’m here only for two weeks.
Kartick is reminding me of the same old problem. Helping is holistic. It is interconnected. It takes time. It is rarely an individual pursuit. You cannot arrive in India, see the Taj Mahal, save a bear and go home. Where do you put it? In your hand luggage?
I spend the day photographing these magnificent creatures. It saddens me that some still swing their heads from side to side, traumatised from years of abuse. But the sanctuary offers a rich environment with plenty of food, climbing and social interaction. It is the best place for their heavy hearts.
At the end of the day I collapse into the sheltered accommodation. The heat almost exactly matches my raised body temperature – 38 degrees – means that my sweating body and the muggy air blend into a delirious whole.
Kartick calls We finally have the last jigsaw of intelligence on the bear cub that has been stolen and identified in a small muslim community.
‘Can you look ….more Indian?’ he asks.
‘Er…how do you mean?’
‘It’s imperative that you don’t stand out. It could be dangerous. Maybe dye your hair, your eyebrows. Get some thick glasses. Grow your moustache’
I imagine myself as a 6’4″ Groucho Marx going on a raid. Trying to blend in
‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Of course I can’
Maybe I shoudl cut my legs down?
NEXT BLOG: I’m off to dress up to rescue a bear. It feels vaguely racist. This is becoming surreal. And dangerous. Apparently there will be guns. Nice