Orphaned Cubs Train Together For Life In The Wild

Cbrc3 Every morning, Nath and Krishna, animal keepers at the Center for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC)wake up to the impatient squeals of four Asiatic black bears at a temporary camp site in Manas National Park, Assam. The bears, rescued as orphans, have been undergoing gradual acclimatisation to their natural habitat since August 9, 2008. As part of their soft-release, they are being walked daily in the lush green moist-deciduous and semi-evergreen forests along Indo-Bhutan border where they will eventually be released.

Following a quick brunch, the animal keepers put on their protocol uniforms before approaching the excited bears in their tree-top cages, where they are restrained at night for safety.

As soon as the cage doors are opened, the older bears Kumar and Kumari descend to the ground and start sniffing for any new smell, the remnants of wild visitors from the previous night. The third cub, Manasi, rescued by the Director of Manas National Park, warily follows suit. She is usually unnerved by the domineering Kumari, but is willing to risk approaching the latter in the presence of her surrogate parents, Nath and Krishna.    

Amidst these activities, a familiar whistle draws their attention. It is time for their walk to familiarize themselves to the forest where they will soon  spend the rest of their lives, if all goes as planned. As whistle blows Kumar, Kumari and Manas promptly follow him to begin another day of their education. They need to learn to find their food, to avoid danger including humans and pick up other survival skills, before they can be freed of the guardianship of their caretakers.

Dheki, the fourth cub, is the most timid of all and always tries to avoid the bigger bears. He was very weak and traumatized during his rescue; it is difficult to imagine the experience he has been through. However, he seems to be responding positively to the affection of his foster parents. A polite egging from Krishna encourages him to follow the others, albeit from a distance.

During the walks in the forest, the bears attempt to climb a variety of trees in search of food or for play. Sometimes, they overestimate their abilities and come crashing down, especially the youngest cub Dheki. But that is a natural learning process…and they move on.

The keepers always encourage the bears to explore the forest independently, rather than trail them around. They purposely try and avoid the cubs, while ensuring that they are never too far away. This is essential, to make them understand that wilderness, and not humans, is their source for food.

After about four hours of walk, Nath signals for the bears to return. The bears run to the keepers, who escort them back to the camp site.

Krishna reaches the camp before Nath and the bears. He quickly puts supplementary food in the cages before the bears can see him, to prevent habituating the bears from humans feeding them.

Once they reach the camp, the bears enter their respective cages making a low pitched sound and gobble their food comprising wheat and egg, while Nath and Krishna go about their own business.

Life is not easy for Nath and Krishna, being away from their homes and families for months at a stretch. Lucky for them, they have cellphone connectivity in the remote forest, and this is their only means of contact to the outside world. They spend their evenings discussing the day's experience and preparing for the next day; quiet companions amidst the calls of the wild. 

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