Thanks to Vinay Datla and Nikki Sharp at Wildlife SOS
Our charity partner in India at The Great Bear Project, Wildlife SOS, recently undertook a dramatic rescue of an adult sloth bear, from the village of Shikohabad, about 75km outside of Agra, where one of IAR and Wildlife SOS’s bear sanctuaries is located. A call about a wild bear was received by Dr. Ilyaraja at 9 am, and he promptly deployed a rescue team. After a two hour journey, the team reached the village, where an adult sloth bear was discovered in the middle of a dry storm drain. It was very dark inside the drain, which was estimated to be around 40 feet in length. Without a long a torch in the rescue kit, the villagers used a mirror and directed the natural light from the sun into the storm drain.
With a transport cage and a net to hand, Dr. Ilyaraja decided to cover the dry storm drain on one end with the cage and the other end with the net. Dr. Ilyaraja managed to dart the bear with sedation through the netting as planned. After waiting about 15 minutes for the drug to take effect, a member of the rescue team, Santyender, went into the storm drain with a long stick and tested the bear’s response. The bear was still conscious, and started moving backwards towards the cage, as planned.
The team at this point thought the rescue was a success, as the bear moved into the cage, but suddenly the villagers shouted, “balu aa gaya”(“bear has come”). The bear, spooked, ran towards the other end right towards Santyender, who narrowly escaped a direct encounter with the frightened sloth bear. The bear reached the net and broke free. The villagers who were responsible for holding the net were understandably scared by the force of the angry sloth bear, dropped the net and ran away. The bear was left tangled in the net. Two members of the rescue team, Raj Kumar and Veeru, bravely held on to the net to contain the bear while Dr. Ilyaraja attempted to dart the bear again. Unfortunately, he missed, which can happen when one tries to dart a bear in open spaces! The angry and aggressive bear managed to escape recapture. At this point Dr Ilyaraja found himself face to face with the bear... He had a dog-catcher in his hand and attempted to catch the bear. The bear almost attacked him, but fortunately ran away instead.
The bear evaded the villagers and escaped into nearby wheat and potato fields about a kilometre away, resting in the shade under a tree before getting spooked by villagers again. The bear moved on, now about two and a half kilometres from the place where it was initially darted. Eventually the bear was successfully darted and immobilized.
Santyender covered the bear eyes with a cloth and the team carried the bear for almost a kilometre. With an additional dose of tranquiliser, the bear was loaded into a cage and the cage was then placed into the vehicle. The team left the village at 3:30pm and arrived back at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility at 5:30pm. At the facility, the animal was observed for injuries and general condition. The bear has now been fully examined and deemed releasable and should be released soon when an appropriate release location has been determined.
An exciting rescue for the team, and certainly not a straightforward one – well done Wildlife SOS!