Bear Cubs and Bicycles!

September 5, 2013 | By wildlife@dmin

By Aishuwarya Sudarshan

Dawn broke in a remote part of rural Karnataka; It was a cold morning. A vegetable vendor left his home, near village Basarihalli in district Tumkur about 150 kilometers from Bangalore. It was six am and he was cycling to the vegetable market in Nandihalli where he would get a good price for the vegetables he grew in his fields. The track he is cycling on snakes through a vast forest and in some parts it becomes very dense. It was not uncommon for villagers in these parts to spot a deer, leopards, bears and other animals crossing paths with them on this track.

The vegetable vendor heard the birds go silent and he knew there was a wild animal near the track. His instinct made him slow down. The next thing he saw was a large female bear with two cubs charging full tilt at him. He tried to pedal his way out of the situation, but it was too late! The mother bear was protective of her two cubs and she was not taking any chances with a stranger approaching the safety zone of her bear cubs. She attacked. The bicycle and the vegetables all fell down, scattered on the forest track. The vegetable vendor screamed in fear and pain, he wasn’t prepared for this. He had always heard how dangerous and painful bear attacks were! 

A group of villagers not far from the location heard his screams of pain, rushed to the source of the screams and came upon the injured vegetable vendor. Their presence frightened the mother bear who rushed into a nearby canal to hide from the people.

The enraged villagers spotted the female bear run into the canal to hide from them, they had seen the effect she had had on the vegetable vendor and wanted revenge. They approached the canal with blood curling screams. This frightened the bear, who, to protect herself abandoned her cubs and disappeared into the forest. The villagers seized the helpless cubs and took them back to the village and were contemplating of disposing them off, when some of their comrades who were moved by the helplessness of the cubs convinced the group to hand over the bear cubs to the local forest officer.

Mr.Chandrappa, the Range Forest Officer arrived at 2:00 pm in his jeep with a leopard trapping cage in tow, in the hope that they could capture the mother, reunite the cubs and release the family of bears in a safer place, far away from the village to ensure their safety. But the hostile mob in the village had other plans for the two bear cubs and would not allow the forest officer to implement his saintly plans; they planned on burning the cubs alive to avenge the attack on the vegetable vendor.

The Forest officer through very skillful diplomatic negotiations reasoned with the villagers and calmed the hostile mob. He then convinced them to hand the bear cubs over to him after which he went about setting the trap cage using the bear cubs as bait to lure the mother into the trap.

He set the trap cage near the canal where the mother had abandoned her cubs. It was dusk at 6:00 pm when he placed the cubs safely in the bait compartment of the trap cage. At about 7:40pm, the mother bear was sighted near the canal, about 50 meters from the trap cage. Her instinct to protect the cubs was very strong and she could not stay away from her cubs any longer. She entered the trap cage to reach her cubs and was trapped. Before the trap could be shifted to a safer location, the wild mother bear panicked and went ballistic biting the cage bars to get out of the cage and injured her mouth, jaws and splintering and damaging most of her teeth.

After seeing all the bleeding from her mouth the forest officer decided to call the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center for help in this matter. This bear needed extensive veterinary treatment and possibly even surgical intervention to patch her up!

It was late at night when the Wildlife SOS team received the SOS call for this bear and the team led by Dr Arun left for Tumkur immediately reaching the location early next morning. Upon reaching the spot, our team immediately tranquilized the mother bear and assessed her injuries. She had caused herself severe damage, injuring her canines, incisors and gums from biting the trap cage out of panic and fear. She had also scratched the cage, bruising and hurting her foot pads and damaging her claws. Once our team had dealt with her first aid and assessment, we realized that at the moment she needed continued treatment until she was fit to be released. Else this would leave her with an infected mouth that could even cause a painful death as she would be unable to eat and could starve to death! She needed a safe location where her wounds and injuries could heal.

The plan was to then shift her to the safety of the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center where she would receive treatment and then to reunite her with her cubs. Once she recovers, then she could be released back into the wild if she was found to be fit for release.

Time was not on our side, we had to rush the bear to a calm place before she recovered from the anesthesia to prevent her from injuring herself any further. The sedated female and her two cubs were immediately transferred to the Wildlife SOS rescue vehicle and transferred to Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center where she was gently placed on a bedding of thick straw in a separate enclosure together with her cubs.

Dr Arun says “It’s been a week since we brought the bears to the centre. The mother bear is slowly recovering from her injuries. Her cubs are kept close to her as it keeps her very calm.

We are sure she misses being in the forest and hope to release her back as soon as her wounds heal. There is a lesson here surely for what is happening to our wildlife due to our intolerance. Man Animal conflict is certainly on the rise and in case of an attack we know who will lose – the animals of course!

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