Four sloth bear cubs rescued from poachers just as they were about to be smuggled out of India are lucky to have escaped a terrible future. If not rescued, they may have possibly ended up as a bowl of bear bile soup in a south east asian restaurant or as Dancing Bears at the end of a rope on a dusty highway, destined to live a life of misery and pain!
“Forestwatch!” Wildlife SOS’s Anti poaching Unit, which was set up with support from One Voice Association France, received a tip off from one of the many informers it employs for this very purpose. Most of the informers are poachers turned protectors on encouragement from WSOS.
A Forestwatch! team was dispatched to Uttar Pradesh and after a 48 hour strenuous operation with very little sleep and amidst high drama four bear cubs were rescued – all four male. The four cubs reached the Agra Bear Sanctuary like little VIP travelers sitting on the laps of the WSOS team and Forest Guards.
The cubs slowly settled into their pampered life at the bear cub weaning unit at the Agra Bear Rescue Centre now proud of their newly acquired names after the famous Gorrilas “Digit”, “Pat”, “Peanuts” and “Pepper”!
Digit, the oldest among the 4 cubs was less fortunate than the others. He was put through the pain and trauma of having his tiny muzzle pierced with a hot and sharp iron needle and no anesthesia, even before Wildlife S.O.S. could reach him and rescue him. His teeth were brutally knocked out with a metal pipe. To top it all, the muzzle wound was very raw and badly infected. Digit was in terrible pain when he reached the Agra Bear Sanctuary. He is still very distressed over his short but agonizing past and it is reflected in his occasional bouts of aggressiveness and his fear of humans, including his keeper. Initially he was aggressive towards the other cubs too, no doubt because of the pain in his muzzle. He is improving every day and his muzzle wound is almost healed but as we all know the emotional wounds would take much longer to heal. He is presently on a diet of 5 meals a day made up of porridge and baby milk formula as well as some watermelon juice boosted with some nutritional supplements to make up for a poor diet and lack of mother’s milk at a very early age. He is eating well and waits patiently for an extra serving of food at almost every meal.
With the resilience of youngsters Digit is making a fast recovery at the Agra Bear Sanctuary under the tender loving care of the vets and his keeper – Satinder – whom he absolutely adores. He also loves the company of his friends Peanut, Pepper and Pat with whom he has occasional scraps when he wants to steal food off their plates. All four are becoming firm friends and bonding well though it is early to predict what personalities they will develop. Digit is still very scared of humans and hides inside his little bamboo and wooden den whenever a newcomer approaches him. He sometimes tries to bite and scream when he doesn’t like a particular activity “ very much like a mischievous child. He absolutely despises weighing sessions, checkups and medicine sessions with the vets. Curious and inquisitive like a child, he is very fond of new structures and any other form of enrichments that are introduced. He is also very active and proceeds to dismantle and break down enrichment structures in half the time it takes to build them! We are all thankful that the Forestwatch team reached him before his spirit was beaten out of him.
Peanut, on the other hand, gets highly distressed if he is separated from the other bear cubs even for a few minutes. It is as if the other cubs are attached to him by means of an invisible thread… they mean security for him and he holds on to them for dear life if his keeper or vet wants to check him and desires to separate him for even a few minutes. He has a rather healthy appetite and the exuberance of a young bouncy bear. He is very active and only stops playing to sleep.
PEPPER is the youngest and the smallest of the four cubs, and is a calm, peaceful and friendly baby. At times he sits by himself and looks into the distance as if pondering over a deep philosophical theory. We feel his trauma of the separation from his mother and perhaps having witnessed the murder of his mother by the poachers is what has left him this way. At times he appears resigned and at other times he appears enlightened like he has discovered the path of peace. Pepper is very fond of his keeper and loves to cuddle up to him and grab him and latch on when he has an opportunity. He hates it the most when itâ€™s time for the keeper to leave his company. At the moment he is quite cooperative for his weighing and treatment sessions. Like the others he is very active and explores all the enrichments that are introduced to him.
PAT – the fourth cub Pat is still not over the trauma of losing his mother. We catch him at times with his muzzle buried in his paws and droning himself to sleep. Thankfully he is bonding well with the other 3 cubs and has learnt to play with them. He hides with them in the bamboo den made by his keepers and goes off to sleep with them huddled tight â€“ sometimes we hear little baby bear snores emitting from inside the den! Pat sure likes his food and doesn’t like missing meals at all. His weight gain, monitored regularly by the vets at the sanctuary, shows that his weight has gone up steadily from a mere five kilos when he arrived at the sanctuary to a whopping fourteen kilos this week. Pat has a funny habit of grabbing hold of the keeperâ€™s leg and looking up innocently at them and when they least expect it, giving them a hard nip! All of us have learnt to watch out for those wide eyed deceptive looks and are mighty careful when he gets close to us.
Geeta Seshamani of Wildlife S.O.S. says, “While the diligence of the Wildlife S.O.S. anti-poaching team has managed to curb the trade in “bear dancing”, the poaching of cubs continues due to demands from across the border.”
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