Law pushes man, child and bear into isolation

June 26th, 2008 - 3:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Keonjhar (Orissa), June 26 (IANS) Mowgli and Baloo the bear may have been the products of Rudyard Kipling’s imagination. But this corner of eastern India is playing out its own version of “The Jungle Book” with Rani the sloth bear being torn away from her human family and five-year-old Golki pining for the animal who is so much more than a mere pet. In a reversal of Kipling’s animal world and Mowgli the boy child who grew up in it, Rama Singh Munda from Ruitisila village in Orissa’s Keonjhar district, about 225 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar, gave Rani shelter when she followed him home about a year ago.

Munda, 40, who was arrested on June 17 for violating the Wildlife Protection Act and kept behind bars for six days before being released on bail on June 23, kept the bear at home and brought it up as his own — with the family even sharing its meals with Rani who has now been sent to the Nandankanan Zoo.

“Rani was just two or three days old when she followed Munda over a year ago from a nearby forest,” said forest range officer Bishnu Charan Behera, who arrested Munda.

Telling the story as Munda told him, Behera said Munda pleaded with officials that he had attempted several times to leave Rani in the jungle but she always returned.

“But the Wildlife Protection Act does not allow a person to keep a bear at home and we had no other way but to arrest him,” Behera told IANS.

Officials sent Munda to jail and Rani to a zoo without considering the consequences of the sudden separation to either.

“I took care of the animal and groomed her like my daughter,” Munda has been quoted as saying on television. “I am depressed and worried after being separated from the animal. If I don’t get back the bear I may die.”

Munda’s daughter Golki, who stayed in her uncle’s house while her father was in jail, said she missed Rani terribly.

Golki, who says she grew closer to Rani after her mother’s death four months ago, said: “We used to eat together and had lots of fun. My father use to carry both of us in his cycle and she never caused any harm to me, my father or to any of the villagers.”

According to a district administration official, Golki might forget in time. But what about the bear.

Though officials say she is good health, wildlife experts say the bear must be feeling lonely and could also die.

Ajit Kumar Patnaik, director of the Nandankanan Zoo, said: “The bear is perfectly in good health conditions and has no symptom of loneliness.”

However, Wildlife Society of Orissa secretary Biswajit Mohanty countered his assertion and said bears usually are highly attached to their keepers and are known for the strong bonds they develop with human beings.

“She might die of loneliness” Mohanty told IANS. “Ideally, the officials should have allowed Munda near the bear in the zoo for a couple of months before shifting to a new keeper.”

As Mohanty sees it, an innocent tribal who has been keeping the bear for over a year with affection and care has been suddenly arrested and put behind bars. But the law is not always applied equally.

“Two years ago, a sloth bear was seriously injured at an ashram at Nuapadaon on the orders of the then district collector P.K. Patnaik. It is shocking that the forest department failed to book the erstwhile district collector who ordered his security officer to fire at the bear. This bear was illegally kept by an ashram.”

“It is surprising that no forest official seized the bear cub when it was initially brought by the tribal and kept in his house for such a long period. This indicates the knee jerk reaction of the department,” he added.

Meanwhile, as the law takes its circuitous course, the story of the animal and her friends waits for a happy end.

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