Bear cubs in India are saved in the nick of time
Four sloth bear cubs rescued from poachers just as they were about to be smuggled out of India are safe and sound in an IAR-funded sanctuary in Agra. The cubs had a narrow escape: had they not been rescued in the nick of time, they could have ended up as a bowl of bear paw soup in a South East Asian restaurant or as dancing bears at the end of a rope on a dusty road.
Forestwatch - the anti-poaching unit run by International Animal Rescue's Indian partners Wildlife SOS - received a tip-off from one of the many informers it employs for this very purpose. Most of the informers are poachers who have turned to animal protection after encouragement and education from WSOS.
A Forestwatch team was dispatched to a location in Uttar Pradesh and, after a strenuous 48 hour operation with very little sleep and amidst high drama, four male bear cubs were rescued. The cubs reached the Agra Bear Sanctuary like little VIP travellers sitting on the laps of the WSOS team and Forest Guards.
The cubs have gradually settled into their pampered life at the bear cub weaning unit of the Agra Bear Rescue Facility. They have been named after the famous gorillas Digit, Pat, Peanut and Pepper!
Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said: "Thanks to the diligence of the Wildlife SOS team these young animals have been saved. But for as long as there is a demand for bears across the borders from India, wild bear cubs will constantly be at risk from poachers."
The keepers at the cub weaning unit, Agra Bear Rescue Facility, have supplied some information about their new charges:
The oldest among the four cubs, was less fortunate than the others. Before he was rescued he had endured the pain and trauma of having his tiny muzzle pierced with a hot, sharp iron needle without any form of anaesthetic. His teeth had been brutally knocked out with a metal pipe. The muzzle wound was very raw and badly infected. Digit was in terrible pain when he reached the sanctuary. He is still very distressed over his short but agonising past and it is reflected in his occasional bouts of aggression 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 the emotional wounds will take much longer to heal. He is currently on a diet of five 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 too 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 particularly 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.
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 three 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 – sometimes we hear little baby bear snores emitting from inside the den! Pat loves his food and doesn't like missing meals. His weight, monitored regularly by the vets at the sanctuary, has increased steadily from a mere five kilos when he arrived to 14 kilos just a couple of weeks later. Pat has a funny habit of grabbing hold of the keepers' legs and looking up innocently at them, then, when they least expect it, giving them a hard nip! Everyone has learnt to watch out for his wide-eyed deceptive looks and is extremely careful when he gets close.
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 most when it's time for the keeper to leave his company. At the moment he is quite cooperative during his weighing and treatment sessions. Like the others he is very active and explores all the enrichments that are introduced to him.
On the other hand, Peanut 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.