The enclosure number 1 at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF) is known as the oldies’ den, where the sleuth of our elderly and blind bears resides. While the resident sloth bears of this enclosure take life at an easier pace due to their advancing age, one cannot help but notice a stark exception in the group who singlehandedly tips the energy scale of the entire enclosure. Ask any staff member at ABRF about enclosure number 1 and they will advise to look out for Chameli, who has a knack for scaring people when they least expect it leaving them with a lasting impression.
Life had not always been so kind to Chameli, where she had the choice to exercise her will or pull pranks. She was a former ‘dancing’ bear, giving pain-inducing performances on the streets of Uttar Pradesh with her Kalandar master. Her pierced muzzle had a deep infected wound, yet every day her master would tug on the piercing rope only aggravating her wound further. Her body was in a shockingly terrible state, to say the least. Chameli’s canines and incisors had been brutally pulled out to keep her ‘tamed’ and easy to handle. She had been receiving improper nutrition as was evident from her dry, rough coat. Chameli was emancipated from her stressful life in 2003 when her Kalandar master surrendered her and she was rehabilitated to ABRF for lifelong care.
Today, at the age of 28 , she is a healthy bear weighing 81.5kg. Her hearty appetite is the talk of the town. In fact, she is quite particular about how she likes her food. If her porridge is not milky enough, she refuses to eat it. Add coconut pieces to her porridge and she will relish it!
While Chameli understandably still remains apprehensive of humans, we are incredibly happy that she has developed deep friendships with the other rescued sloth bears. Her dearest friend of the group is Michael and the two are always spotted together. Napping is their favourite activity and it is commonplace to see them napping together under the shade of the tree or on the hammock. In fact, on days when they are feeling particularly lazy, they simply cover their eyes with their fuzzy paws to shield themselves from the sun and have an interrupted siesta. The two friends have figured out that this trick also helps them retain the prime napping spot from the other lurking spot stealing bears!
When Chameli is in a mood to play, there is no stopping her. She enjoys wrestling with the enrichment ball or the honey log to get treats. The enrichment ball keeps her busy for a long time as she tries to control its motion with her paws. The faster the ball moves to and fro, the angrier Chameli gets, ultimately leaving the ball in frustration to take treats out of her other enrichment. She is very skilful at sucking the treats out of the enrichments logs and often even eats another bear’s share. For the keepers of the enclosure, Chameli is definitely the naughtiest bear in their care.
In the 16 years that we have spent with Chameli, we have witnessed her transformation from a scared emaciated bear to one who is fearlessly assertive of her personality. We are privileged to have supported this beautiful bear on this journey!