This first-hand experience was shared by Debahutee Roy, who is an Assistant Field Officer at the Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC), Arunachal Pradesh.
Born in captivity at the IFAW-WTI run Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC), Bizoo was raised by his mother.
He was shy and would rarely interact with humans. However, his recent aggressive behaviour had set the IFAW-WTI team thinking about this one-year-old’s next steps.
After long discussions, it was decided that the time was right to release the young bear into the wild.
Before he would be released, however, he needed to be acclimatized to the wild and that would mean taking him for long walks in the forest.
Bear rehabilitation protocols include taking the bear cubs out for walks with a keeper watching over them. The keeper gradually distances himself until their charges feel comfortable on their own.
We retired early that evening so that we could be up at 5:30 am to take Bizoo out for his first walk.
Bizoo was lazing around in his cage that morning. An IFAW-WTI animal keeper and I offered him some fruits to entice him out of the cage.
But Bizoo seemed frightened.
He would follow us till the ladder, look down and bolt back into his cage. This continued until 12:30 pm and we were exhausted by this seemingly never-ending exercise.
Bear cubs hand-raised by animal keepers are usually not as shy. But Bizoo has been raised by his mother and not a keeper, which resulted in limited interactions with humans.
At around 1:00 pm, four of us went up the machan and when Bizoo walked out of the cage, we immediately shut the door.
With nowhere else to go, Bizoo seemed confused. He became restless and tried climbing trees for a while. Suddenly, while climbing one of the trees, he lost his grip and crashed to the ground.
This was a turning point for Bizoo: He seemed to have overcome his fear with the fall.
Bizoo got up on his legs, playfully ran towards the nearby river and started to swim. He got himself dirty in the mud, went back into the river, and ran around like there was no tomorrow. He would climb trees and dig earth.
His actions were quite similar to that of a toddler who has just learned to walk.
Gradually, he moved some 70 meters away from the cage and started to savour his wild surroundings. Soon, he ran deep into the forest.
We could still see him from a distance, though he couldn’t see us as we were hidden in a thick undergrowth of grass.
This made him nervous and just like a child he ran back towards us to ensure we were around. Once he spotted us, he just stopped and kept staring. This was his way of telling us that we needed to follow him.
Usually, it’s the animal keeper who takes bears for walks, but Bizoo had other plans. It was he who was taking us for a walk!
With Bizoo in charge, we followed him for a while and again hid behind a bush, and true to his form, he rushed back to look for us. I just couldn’t stop smiling and wondering what was going on in Bizoo’s mind.
The entire day passed with the IFAW-WTI team playing hide and seek with the bear. Late in the evening, Bizoo seemed tired and took shelter in one of the trees behind his cage. We too were worn out and returned to our field camp.
The next morning, we reached his cage at 5:30 am. Bizoo was still resting in the tree. After half an hour, he came down willingly and had his share of fruits. Once full, he began exploring a new trail and we started to follow him yet again. Soon, he was in his usual self and started climbing, digging and feeding more.
This continued for five days and on the sixth day, he started showing signs of being disturbed by our presence. It was time for Bizoo to go where he has always belonged: back to the wild.
We were happy that we were ready to return one more bear back into its natural habitat.
To date, IFAW-WTI has hand-raised and released 43 bears back into the wild under the Asiatic Black Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation Project in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.
Article source: IFAW