By Aishuwarya Sudarshan

Wildlife SOS had just one Rani (“queen” in Hindi,) for a very long time, she was the first bear that we rescued on the Christmas Eve of 2002 and lived up to her name, being the undisputed monarch of her enclosure in the Agra Bear rescue facility. Over the years a few more ‘Ranis’ were rescued but the keepers immediately changed their names so as to allow Rani her privileged title. But then another Rani entered our rescue centre at Bhopal, in Central India, and Chota Rani (or the ‘smaller queen’) was allowed to keep her name

Unlike most of the others bears in our center, Rani had a different story. She was rescued in 2008 from a tribal man who had found her near the forest and decided to keep her. She was an attraction and unlike the Kalandar masters, he didn’t pierce her muzzle, but she was tied near his hut and kept for all the people to see. Rani was docile and understandably always seemed nervous and high strung. It couldn’t have been easy to be constantly touched, poked at and stared at. The news of Rani had spread to various other villages and reached the ears of the forest department who then explained to the man that it was illegal to keep the bear as a pet and the forest department took Rani into their custody. There was a joint decision made by them to send her to a zoo in Orissa, where she would get treated for opacity in her left eye and she would be in safe hands.

Young Rani was then bundled into a truck and brought to the Nandankanan zoo. It took a while for her to adjust to the zoo environment and she slowly became used to the emptiness and the crowds passing by her cage. She would wait for the keeper to bring her food and watch people as they watched her. Her daily routine was to come out in the morning sniff the small patch of grass, look at the visitors and then go back inside her den when it became too hot. Her evenings were spent lying on the grass in her enclosure.

Sometime in 2010 Rani’s keeper noticed a discharge from her left eye and alerted the zoo doctors who then prescribed daily medicines and cleaned her eye. But the discharge didn’t stop. That was the first time Wildlife SOS came into the picture and our vet was requested for a second opinion on Rani.

One wonderful evening in January the zoo director decided Rani should be a free bear again and contacted Wildlife SOS to check if we could shift Rani to the Van Vihar Bear Rescue Facility in Bhopal. We said yes! and 6 year old Rani started her journey to our center. Our team in Bhopal started gearing up for Rani’s arrival. After all the paper work, Rani arrived at the centre beginning of March 2012. We started the medical examination and took a closer look at her eye; during the course of her life she also seemed to have lost a canine, it was filled in and dental surgery was done; other little wounds were looked at and she was vaccinated.

For the first few days Rani was extremely wary of her surroundings. When she saw the fruits that were in the plate, she sniffed it and looked at the plate for 15 minutes wondering what to do. Then our boys decided maybe if they added some milk she would realize it was to be eaten, they did and voila!! Rani ate every fruit and drank up all the milk. She loved the porridge the minute she tasted it and slurped all of it on the first evening. In the next few days, she was micro chipped and dewormed. The treatment for her eye still continues.

Today, Rani climbs the enrichment platforms, is adept at shaking down nuts from the wobble tree and digs herself a couple of pits each day for her afternoon siesta. We hope she has the comfort of knowing she will never again be on display to a gawking public and she can enjoy the natural surroundings and activities as much as possible.

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