Bear Of The Month — The 29-Year-Old Sundari

November 23, 2022 | By Avni Gupta
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Sundari, a 29-year-old Sloth bear under our care at Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre (BBRC), spends a large part of her time gallivanting in her spacious field. While she interacts with nine other bears in her enclosure, she is closest to Tate. The two chase each other across the field and are even spotted sharing enrichments! After her friendly exchanges, Sundari uses her long, inwardly curved claws to dig through the soft mud around her. The bear can sometimes dig pits as deep as a metre underground to reach for ants and termites. She is often seen settling down comfortably to watch the daily activities that her fellow Sloth bears engage in. 

Sundari was rehabilitated by Wildlife SOS at BBRC about 17 years ago. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Lenu Kannan]

November 2022 marks the 17th year of Sundari’s arrival at the BBRC, and this makes for an opportune time to highlight her journey of freedom with us! Sundari is our Bear of The Month, and here’s her story. 

From the Streets to the Centre

In 2005, Wildlife SOS and the Karnataka Forest Department found a 12-year-old female Sloth bear who had been forced into the ‘dancing’ bear practice. The bear was enduring agonising pain caused by a rope that had been pushed through her delicate muzzle. While the owner tugged and pulled the rope, her anguished movement was displayed as a ‘dance’ to entertain audiences on the streets.

Sundari was muzzle was mutilated as she was used in the ‘dancing’ bear practice. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Lenu Kannan]

Sundari, rightly named after the Hindi word that translates to ‘beautiful’, is now living at BBRC. While her life took a positive turn 17 years ago, she was left with indelible physical and psychological scars. Her face had been mutilated when a hot iron rod was pierced through her muzzle for the rope to pass through it. Our team of dedicated veterinarians and caregivers have left no stone unturned in providing Sundari with the nourishing life that she truly deserves. With continuous care, medical examinations, timely meals, engaging enrichments, and the joyful company of other bears, this geriatric bear is now thriving at BBRC.

Living with Arthritis

As a ‘dancing’ bear, Sundari was frequently made to stand upright on her hindlimbs and perform. Maintaining the posture for prolonged periods caused immense stress on her bones, as she was unable to bear the weight of her body on her hind limbs. The lack of nutrition and hygiene, along with intense physical strain, resulted in the deterioration of her health. The ‘dancing’ had not only weakened, but had also cracked her bones, which eventually led to osteoarthritis of the hip joint. 

sloth bear
Sundari suffers from osteoarthritis of the joint hip, for which she continues to receive medical treatment. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Lenu Kannan]

Our veterinary team had identified the onset of arthritis when Sundari displayed hind limb lameness, gait abnormalities, and reduced movement. Medical treatments and health checkups are now an essential part of Sundari’s schedule at BBRC, given her cruel past and its consequential health problems. 

Sundari’s Medical Treatment

Laser therapy sessions, supplements to aid joints, and medication for pain relief are all provided to Sundari at regular intervals. The medicines are crushed and mixed with porridge or hidden within dates for Sundari to consume. Multivitamins, minerals, and other supplements help in promoting the healthy development of bones. Sufficient amounts of calcium and phosphorus doses are also administered, since they serve as the bones’ building blocks. Regular sessions of laser therapy help relieve her from stiff joints and accelerate healing of the affected region.

sundari consuming dates
Sundari’s medicines are hidden in dates and offered to her. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Lenu Kannan]

To ease the process of providing medications to her, our team practises positive operant conditioning. It is a reward-based approach that enables veterinarians to examine Sundari’s health, draw her blood for tests, and even provide her oral medication. Every time Sundari cooperates and responds positively to the vets, she is rewarded with treats such as dates, which happen to be her favourite! Positive reinforcement especially helps the team in providing treatment to the geriatric bear, without any discomfort or pain.

Engaging Enrichments

Our bear care staff makes special arrangements for Sundari by setting up enrichments and activities that are not too strenuous for her. Sundari’s free-ranging field is equipped with structural enrichments such as wooden platforms and an engrossing puzzle feeder! After spending time rummaging through this, Sundari settles down on her platform enrichment to enjoy a long afternoon of deep sleep, only to wake up fresh and active for the evening. 

sundari with tyre enrichment
Sundari’s enrichments are lowered to that they do not stress her out. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Lenu Kannan]

Sundari has developed a fondness for the tyre feeder enrichment, which is filled with freshly-chopped fruits. During her nap, the caregiver smears the tyres with honey and peanut butter, and stocks them with watermelons and coconuts for her to relish! Due to her arthritis, enrichment items, like logs or puzzle feeders that have been hung in the enclosure for the bears, are lowered for Sundari so that she need not climb too high to obtain the treats. Her own wooden platform is kept at a level that allows her to access it easily. Her field is also regularly sprinkled with water to keep the ground soft and muddy, which makes it easier for her to walk on!

Sundari’s diet has been crafted to suit her age — her honey-laced porridge is garnished with nutritious items like eggs, dates, and insect larvae. She has grown increasingly fond of this meal, and delectable dates are the first to be eaten enjoyably with leisure. The caregiver also brings a scrumptious fruit platter consisting of seasonal fruits such as watermelons, papayas and pomegranates!

What makes Sundari a special bear under our care is her perseverance. While she is one of the oldest residents, Sundari continues to explore her surroundings with utmost enthusiasm. Our bear care staff and the veterinary team at BBRC work tirelessly to ensure that Sundari is provided with the highest quality of care and comfort. You too can sponsor Sundari’s welfare so that she can continue to live a life of sound health! 

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