Bear of the Month – Polly

November 21, 2020 | By Smriti Suri

Morning starts with eagerness within the enclosure; every new day brings with it tons of delicious honey-laced porridge, which is a beloved delicacy amongst our bears. Polly starts her day with a leisurely stretch outside her den, making her way lazily to one of the three hammocks within the enclosure and flopping onto it. Then starts the eager wait – Polly waits for her caregiver towards the entrance of her enclosure, as he walks in with her plate of steaming porridge. Apart from the porridge that is laced generously with honey, Polly also loves eggs & dates, a welcome addition to her morning routine.

For years, Polly had endured a harsh and painful life as a ‘dancing bear’ in West Bengal. Being forced to dance at the whims of her cruel owner and constantly subjected to abuse and neglect, Polly’s condition was tear-jerking. Her coat was ill-kempt; she was extremely emaciated, weighing a mere 50 kilograms. She also exhibited stereotypic behavior in the form of head swaying and nodding – traits which took a long time and  plenty of dedicated care to overcome. She regarded everyone with suspicion, and rightly so, considering the lifetime of cruelty she had experienced.

For years, Polly had endured a harsh and painful life as a ‘dancing bear’ in West Bengal. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

When one looks at Polly, it is hard to believe that the gentle bear is over eighteen years old! Considered a ripe old age for sloth bears, this brings with it many challenges – from regular dental care to customized enrichments and a well-prepared diet, every aspect of geriatric treatment is incredibly important in elongating the life of those under our care, at the same time keeping the quality of life consistent. As Polly grows older, her needs become more varied. Regular dental procedures such as root canal surgeries and tartar clean-ups are necessary as neglect can lead to long term damage to the enamel and gums; this could make it very difficult for Polly to consume food as time passes.

Polly and the five other bears she shares her enclosure with – Brabu, Mary, Maddy, Suraj & Sundari – are making the most of the limited time when the sun is out. One of Polly’s favourite activities is to dig pits in the soft mud; her inwardly shaped claws are perfect tools to dig up comfy cubby holes. While she rests, her caregiver fills the pits with soft, warm hay, turning them into snug coves for Polly to rest in. Polly also uses her claws to devour termites – she digs into termite mounds and sucks out the insects using her snout. This activity creates such loud sounds that they can be heard from over a mile away!

Due to the increasing cold, Polly’s diet has also undergone a considerable change. At our centre, the animal care staff works diligently to ensure that the bears’ daily meals are designed to closely resemble their diet in the wild. During summer, Polly’s palette often consists of a high quantity of fruits, as they are helpful in fighting the heat. Now that winter approaches, foods that help her regulate her body temperature such as jaggery (molasses) have been added. However, her penchant for watermelon is known very well by her caregiver!

Polly’s penchant for watermelon is well-known through the centre! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Age hasn’t been able to slow down Polly, and she is often seen engaging in mock wrestling sessions with Brabu. The duo later treat themselves to a well deserved nap in the comfortable and cozy hammocks. Polly responds very well to fruit-based enrichment – they help in keeping her motivated, while maintaining physical and emotional well-being.

In October, Polly underwent a regular health check-up and our vets were happy to report that apart from a mild bout of indigestion, Polly seems to be doing well.  The indigestion was soon tackled with the help of medication, regulated diet and plenty of rest, and Polly was back to normal within no time!

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