DAY 215: BEAR RESCUE ENDS MYSTERIOUSLY
I’m in a strange situation.
I’m walking into a small village accompanied by thirty policemen, many with guns. We are looking for a single illegal bear cub. Our intelligence is rock solid, I’m told that Kartick has not failed on a mission like this for ten years but I fear we are about as conspicious as a burning meteor.
What is the point of my cunning disguise? Will anyone appreciate my mascara?
The police and Wildlife SOS team park the cars 100 metres from the entrance to the Muslim community.
‘Too dangerous to go closer’ says the officer with three stars on his shoulder. The informer seems mighty nervous.
We all flow down the street and turn into an ever-narrowing alleyway, pushing onward ike a stream forcing new channels. Children poke heads out of doorways and then retreat to let us past.
I see monkey’s chained to walls, one seems blind and truly terrified.
‘Can we rescue these?’ I asked my guide/rescuer keenly while taking some photo. I am told to keep quiet and move on. The monkeys need help but first we must get the bear.
Do not lose your man, Martin.
We enter the main area of the community where families come out to see the commotion. It its a sunny day, no one in the community has guns, kids are around, I’m surrounded by police. Suddenly it all feels safe. What was I worried about?
But my UK antennae are not tuned to Indian life. In London I can read undercurrents of aggression from a hundred metres. I learnt it at school when Louis Peterson threatened to beat me up for accidentally hitting him on the head when I threw a basketball and missed the hoop by about ten metres. He prowled the school and I watched his every twitch. But here it seems to me that all is calm. When a man brushes past me, knocking my camera I presume it is an accident. When it happens again I forgive him too easily. Thankfully in a few minutes I’ll be forced to get out of here before I find that on the third strike I might be out.
Police start tapping on doors. No bear here. More doors are knocked. Then one is smashed down. People come to crowd around.
Still no bear.
I see two more monkeys tied by chains but this time their necks are held together by a few links. I go to take photos. The camera is a dangerous thing. When pushed to your eye its offers a safe and dark enclosure.
My mind climbs into the camera and looks out of its neat window. Snap, snap, snap. When I put the camera down I see that my guide has gone. Do not lose your man, Kartick told me
I call my man quicky. ‘Come, come!’ he says frantically. But I don’t know where he is. The police are dispersing in three different directions so I follow the ones with the biggest guns – as you do.
‘I’ll meet you by the monkey’ I say, which is about as useful as telling a farmer you’ll meet him by the sheep.
‘Come now, come NOW!’ he says more urgently.
Has he found the bear?
We go faster now. When I turn the corner I see my guide in the distance waving to me. I run over and he pushes me into the car and we race off down small streets which become ever wider as we reach safety.
‘Do we have the bear?’ I ask as I look back at the receding plume of dust behind the car.
‘No. We have to go. It was getting very dangerous.’
‘It was? ‘
Undercurrents at work
So we never saw the bear.
Only later did I find out the whole story.
It is common knowledge in India that in order to survive most people in local communities set up relatonships with the lower ranking police officer – this is called a HAFDA which is a regular protection fee to make sure they don’t get in trouble. This was the first time in almost a decade that no bear was seized by Kartick’s team. There’s a distinct possibility that some undercurrents were at work here that allowed the community to be forewarned but we can’t be sure. Things certainly don’t stack up.
Saving animals in India is not just physical and emotional. It is deeply political and divisive.
The community we visited has a reputation for disorder and violence. Someone had found out that Kartick was involved and apparently people had threatened to kill him. He wasn’t present but things were escalating fast. I saw none of this in my ignorant haze but the police quickly recognized a tipping point on the near-horizon. We had to leave
So we just left the bear there?
Kartick later assured me that the bear would be saved soon and that the monkeys would as well. That just wasn’t our moment.
To be honest, I am surprised sometimes that Kartick is still with us. I’ll let you know of any updates. But for now I am glad to be back and safe.