A bear hug - and the many tears that followed

June 27th, 2008 - 9:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, June 27 (IANS) They met after nine days at what was a tearful renunion. He fed the one-year-old milk and hugged her tight. And, no, that was not a father meeting up with his daughter, but Ram Singh Munda meeting Rani, the sloth bear who had been snatched away from him and kept in a zoo. The story of the bear and the family that had brought her up as their own turned another page Friday when Munda and his daughter, five-year-old Golki, travelled from their village in Keonjhar to this state capital to meet Rani at the Nandankanan zoo.

Tears flowed freely, said zoo officials who were looking on.

Munda, who was arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act and was behind bars for several days before being freed on bail, spent some hours at the zoo. He went to the caged enclosure where Rani was kept. According to officials present, the bear recognised him and clasped him in an embrace.

Munda’s daughter Golki, who says she had a lot of fun with the bear while she lived with the family for a year and misses her sorely, was also crying, said an eyewitness.

In a scene straight from a film, eyewitnesses said the bear placed her paws on the wire mesh of the enclosure watching Munda as he walked away after the meeting.

“I am interested in stay in Nandankanan and serving the bear,” Munda told reporters before leaving the zoo.

However, zoo officials said that was not possible.

“We cannot keep him because there is no such provision,” deputy director of the zoo Siba Narayan Mohapatra said.

Munda, a resident of Ruitisila village in Keonjhar district, about 225 km from here, was jailed June 17 for keeping the bear at home. The tribal, who was released on bail on June 23, said the bear had followed him home from a nearby jungle when she was two or three days old.

According to him, the bear came with him and started living with him and his family. It did not return to the wild even when he tried to release it in the forest. Golki and Rani used to sleep and eat together.

“Bears are usually highly attached to their keepers and are known for the strong bonds they develop with human beings. She might die of loneliness. Officials should allow Munda to be near the bear for a couple of months before shifting her to a new keeper,” Wildlife Society of Orissa secretary Biswajit Mohanty said.

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