• DAY 210: I’VE OPENED UP A CAN OF BEARS

    Apr 27th
    An Indian sloth bear. Cuddly...but not to be messed with. But how can I help?

    An Indian sloth bear. How can I help these vast creatures?


    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?

     

    The location is full of 'enrichments' , purpose built structures to keep the bears happy - or very comfortable when they sleep

    The location is full of ‘enrichments’ , purpose built structures to keep the bears happy – or very comfortable when they sleep

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    yes, they look sweet but they are fiercely strong

    Monumental effort

    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’)

    Sloth bears suck up their food through long snouts. The scar on the snout from where the rope was passed through is still painfully clear.

    Sloth bears suck up their food through long snouts. The scar on the snout from where the rope was passed through is still painfully clear.

    Although the bears have a wonderful environment many still show the signs of previous abuse and anxiety, moving back and forth.

    Although the bears have a wonderful environment many still show the signs of previous abuse and anxiety, moving back and forth.

    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.

    Why?

    ‘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.

     

    The sanctuary extends out into the forest where bears can climb and socialise freely

    The sanctuary extends out into the forest where bears can climb and socialise freely

    Ahh....

    Ahh….

    An early evening play session

    An early evening play session

     

    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.

    A bear juggling a coconut cask

    A bear juggling a coconut cask

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    Hanging out

    Hanging out

     

    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?

     

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    To keep the bears busy - and cool - staff hang ice blocks frozen with berries and honey just out of reach.

    To keep the bears busy – and cool – staff hang ice blocks frozen with berries and honey just out of reach.

    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.

    The bears seem highly social, often playing vigorously - but normally only when the day is cooler

    The bears seem highly social, often playing vigorously – but normally only when the day is cooler

    hulllo?

    hulllo?

    Some bears are not so friendly.

    Some bears are not so friendly.

    Arun the vet - I asked if he'd ever been hurt by wildlife. No, he said, but his friend had. A sloth bear attacked him and ripped his backside clean off - Arun indicated this with a flat swipe behind him and a wry smile.

    Arun the vet – I asked if he’d ever been hurt by wildlife. No, he said, but his friend had. A sloth bear attacked him and ripped his backside clean off – Arun indicated this with a flat swipe behind him and a wry smile.

    A bear suffering from TB. His days are numbered but pain relief is administered regularly

    A bear suffering from TB. His days are numbered but pain relief is administered regularly

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    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

    The drive back from the sanctuary at sunset

    The drive back from the sanctuary at sunset

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    4 Responses to “DAY 210: I’VE OPENED UP A CAN OF BEARS”

    1. This is a great story and I totally agree that you have to replace the income from the bears with something else.

    2. Wow! What a brilliant man and what a lovely place he’s made for them! How very sensible and un-judgemental of him to employ the people.

    3. Hi Kate
      indeed, what a great man for doing what he has done!

    4. These wonderful creatures desreve to live the sort of life they would naturally enjoy.We owe it to them to make their lives as good as they can be. Just look at their faces – they are wise and understanding beyond the capablilities of many humans

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