Bear Kinship

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Indian man jailed for keeping sloth bear as pet

This is not a happy story.

It all began last year, when Ram Singh Munda found an orphaned bear cub in the woods and brought it home to console his 6-year-old daughter after the death of his wife.

"The bear and I used to eat together and have fun. The bear was taking care of me," Goki, the daughter, tells The Times of India. "My father use to take both of us on his cycle. The bear never harmed anyone."

When the story of the sloth bear appeared in a newspaper, IBN says government officials ordered Munda to return the sloth bear to the wild. He complied, but the bear, named Rani, returned home the next day.

"The Forest Department then forcibly took Rani away and handed her over to the Nandankanan Zoo near Bhubaneswar. Ram was arrested and sent to Keonjhar jail for violating the Wildlife Protection Act, which forbids people from keeping wild animals," IBN reports.

This is not a simple story.

Some activists described Munda's motivations as anything but pure.

"This is the fifth case we have come across in the last one year where these tribals kill the mother, take the baby and sell it to the madaris of Mevat or it goes to Nepal. I am saying that he should get the absolute harshest sentence possible," former environment minister Maneka Gandhi tells CNN-IBN.

Munda faces criminal charges. He was released on bail last night, according to The Hindu.

As for the bear, she's being kept at a zoo, where the Associated Press says she has been refusing to eat without her master.

(AP photos.)

Response from Steve Stringham

Hello Jeff,

I would never condone anyone killing a mother bear to get her cubs, whether for research, companionship or sale. However, once a cub is orphaned, raising it with affection and constant social interaction is far more "humane" -- or should we say "ursane" or just plain "sane" -- then condemning it to a zoo. Speaking as someone who has wild-raised orphaned cubs and helped them become self-sufficient in the wild, I can only wish that had been the fate of this sloth bear -- a species all to rare in the wild.

Ideally, it should be turned over to one of India's sloth bear researchers who could have mentored it like I mentored my cubs and as Ben Kilham and Charlie Russell mentored theirs. (The family who raised the cub might be employed on the project.) This is a rare opportunity to learn a great deal about sloth bears that could benefit the relatively small number still surviving in the wilds. If any of you know the name of a sloth bear researcher, please pass this message along. Meanwhile, I will dig through my own files and try to find a few contacts.

Steve Stringham, Director
Bear Communication & CoExistence Research Program


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