Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Building and rebuilding enrichment in Bannerghatta!

Kat Fingland’s third and final blog post from Bannerghatta

So I helped to build an enrichment item! And then I watched the bears attempt to destroy it...

There's a constant cycle of rebuilding enrichment items (like platforms, frames to hang balls and logs from, etc) which are then destroyed within literally a few days or even a few hours. The workers feed the bears in the morning and the afternoon, provide some enrichment food mid-way, and the rest of the day is pretty much spent putting things back together for the bears to ecstatically demolish again.

Two rescued bears have a squabble over whose turn it is to play on the climbing frame!They are wily creatures...with the platform that I helped build, two of them worked together to dig out around the foundations before one of them climbed on top to give the whole structure a really good shake with its 130kg mass.

I rediscovered my gecko room mate who had managed to hide from me very well: he took up residence in my sink. Literally, inside the sink...down the little hole at the back of the bowl that helps to prevent overflows. I discovered this when I returned from the centre slightly earlier than usual one day and, on opening the bathroom door, managed to give both of us a fright as I surprised him and in response he flip-flopped all around the sink bowl before scampering back into his home.

A rescued bear has a quick nap after a climbing sessionThe part of my study I enjoyed most was getting to sit and watch the bears...I've learnt so much about how they behave just through observing them and you can see their individual personalities. You get the chance to see some very funny behaviour too, like one bear who rugby tackled his dozing friend to instigate a mock fight or another playing in his water bowl on a particularly hot and sunny afternoon. It was great fun watching them with coconuts too, throwing them on the floor (they know to target concrete) in order to crack them open, before squabbling over the pieces. I've now received all of my data and am currently analysing it to see which food item was their favourite – from a first glance, coconut is the clear winner!

We had training in how to use GPS in order to track released animals - there's a female who will be released back into the wild soon, with a tracking collar to help provide more information about the lives of sloth bears in the wild, which will hopefully help reduce the number of human-bear conflicts that occur.

Unfortunately a trip to the hospital was also taken...I thought I was going to make it through without getting ill, but it wasn't to be. I had gastroenteritis for a few days, so although I was doing the typical British stiff upper lip ("honestly I'm fine, I don't need a doctor" while curled up in a ball on the floor) Dr Arun, rightly, made me take a trip to the hospital. I was given a supply of antibiotics and supplements to help me try and shift it.

My last few days were really good fun! I spent some time with one of the guys, Deepak, and his friends, going bowling and go karting, and then out to drinks at a roof top bar, watching the fireworks all over Bangalore city as processions took their Ganesha idols down to the lakes to submerge them.

I was also pretty surprised that the enrichment I made was still standing when I left – that’s British engineering for you!

On the last day, I also went on a safari around the national park (seeing elephants, lions, tigers, white tigers and, of course, the bears) and went to the zoo and the butterfly house. I said goodbye to the guys and thanked them for their hospitality - it was actually quite sad saying goodbye as this has certainly been a truly unforgettable experience.

Monday, 28 October 2013

International Animal Rescue: A New Life for Shakir

Reproduced below is an account by our Indian partners Wildlife SOS of the effectiveness of the Kalandar rehabilitation programme. The Kalandars are traditionally a nomadic people who have relied for centuries on dancing bears for a living. With support from International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Australia, the programme played a vital part in the Kalandars’ willingness to surrender their bears and embark on a new way of life.

In our attempt to solve the problem of 'Dancing Bears' in India, we worked with an approach that would not only free the bears from their cruel owners but also would provide a different life for the Kalandars. We needed to stop sloth bears being taken from the wild and used for entertainment. We understood that in order to do that we needed a holistic programme. Something that addressed the poverty of the Kalandar tribe and ensured the conservation of sloth bears in the wild. The Kalandar families were living from hand to mouth and the bears were their only source of income. In many cases Wildlife SOS provided jobs to the Kalandar people at the rescue centres for the bears, in others we tried to provide alternative livelihoods.
A Kalendar surrenders his dancing bear to International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS

One such example is of Shakir Kalandar, who now has a changed life. Shakhir is a 22 year old that lives in a village called Korai in Uttar Pradesh. His grandparents used to dance bears until they surrendered their bears to Wildlife SOS.

In 2011, Shakir met with an accident that stopped the flow of blood in his left hand.  His nerves were damaged from the shoulder joint which made it impossible for him to do any kind of work with it. "It was such a traumatic situation for me, I had a family to support and I was not able to get a job." Shakir tried to work as a labourer at a construction site after surrendering his bear. "After the accident, everywhere I went for a job they rejected me because of my hand. I went through a major crisis for more than two years that included starvation and poverty," he added.

Shakir approached Wildlife SOS in the hope of being freed from his wretched situation.  After being reassured by Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, he was optimistic about a new life. Shakir expressed, "Geeta ma'am assured me that Wildlife SOS would help and support me. In the next few days a team from the NGO came to my house and sponsored a small grocery shop for me worth Rs 7500. I am grateful to the organisation for understanding my pain and taking immediate action to help me."
Former bear owner Shakir now earns his living running a grocery shop, instead of relying on his dancing bear.

Now Shakir runs a small grocery shop in his village where he caters to the daily needs of his community and he is able to earn an approximate income of Rs. 3000 per month. This income is used to run his house and take care of his health necessities. The economic empowerment of the Kalandar man will provide him with a dignified life and help him feed his family.

Friday, 18 October 2013

International Animal Rescue: Life among the bears and other animals

Kat's second blog post from Bannerghatta
Working in the national park is ideal for seeing the animals that are indigenous to India. In the week or so I've been here, in addition to the elephant that we spotted on my first day, I've now also seen a family of wild boar (piglets included), lots of different birds, deer, hares, a macaque monkey and several mongooses.
Speaking of elephants, the Wildlife SOS team was sent to rescue one on Sunday: apparently it had wandered near to a village and the locals all went to look at it, but it became frightened and charged, tragically killing a small boy. Wildlife SOS was called in to drive the elephant away from the village - hopefully the elephant was sufficiently frightened by the experience that it won't go back.
Watching elephants from a safe place

There's still a lot to get used to here: the culture is just so different to the UK and we spend a lot of time discussing the differences between our countries. Particularly the food - it is all very tasty, but I think I normally have curry about once every six months at home!
During the week, the Wildlife SOS team was called to another rescue - this time a leopard caught in a snare. As they were about to dart it in order to cut it free and give it a general health check, it jumped and managed to free itself. As long as his paw isn't too badly injured he should be fine, which is a relief. They even brought the snare back to the centre, complete with tufts of leopard fur...
During the week, we had an escapee bear. The cheeky thing had managed to dig a huge hole, find a gap in the massive stone wall and squeeze himself out. He knew he'd done something bad though: as the workers approached him, he sheepishly ran back in with a guilty look. This is currently being resolved to ensure he doesn't escape again! 
Squabbling broke out between the rescued bears over enrichmentFor my study, I have been asked to find out which food enrichment item the bears prefer: so we are giving the bears six food items (watermelon, coconut, ground nuts, Pedigree biscuits, dates and monin [syrup] - there are others that they provide, based on the season and what is available for purchasing, but these six are most regularly used and readily available) in their "socialising enclosure" to forage for. I am noting down the order in which they find them and how long they spend with each item.It's really interesting to watch them pop open a watermelon so easily and slurp out the insides within seconds - you can see with those claws and that strength why an enraged bear is so dangerous!
There's one bear in particular, called Madhan, who loves coconut - for the last few days, all he has eaten is the coconut. As this research is being repeated every day, the bears are starting to learn that the six items are available but they only have a certain time limit, so they will ignore less preferred items that they have found in order to track down their favoured ones (returning to the skipped ones only once all their preferred ones have been found and eaten.) Madhan, in particular, will gloss over all the other items in order to find the coconut and he will then spend up to half an hour scraping every last piece out with his claws.

It seems to be going quite well so far. More news and results next week once I have finished...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Bear diaries blog by Kathryn Fingland from the UK

So, I have arrived...my first ever time in Asia, let alone India. I already get the feeling it's going to be unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

The people at Wildlife SOS are very welcoming and friendly to me, giving me beer and always making sure I have enough food and sleep to recover from my jet lag. And we all share the same interest in wildlife and conservation (although when I’m talking about the foxes and badgers in my garden, they're talking about trying to avoid stepping on cobras in theirs!)

I've now had my first couple of days at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre...I've seen a wild elephant, come nose-to-nose with a Sumatran tiger and, of course, met the bears!

The centre is based quite far into the national park, so sightings of wild leopards, elephants and sloth bears have been reported by those who work there. Luckily, we managed to spot an elephant in the trees at the side of the road. It was only brief (maybe 5 seconds or so) but I still felt very lucky to see one, and so close, on my first day!

The centre also houses two tigers: a Royal Bengal tiger which was caught in a snare and sadly had to have his paw amputated and a Sumatran tiger that was rescued from the UK where someone had been keeping him as a pet. I was kneeling down at the barrier to the Sumatran tiger's enclosure to look at him sunbathing, when he decided to come have a look at me too. He came right up to where I was kneeling and pushed his nose up to the wire to give me a good sniff, so he was less than a foot away and separated only by the fence! Tigers really are beautiful animals and it was so amazing to be that close.

I've also been introduced to the daily routine of looking after the bears, and spent some time observing them throughout the day. Every morning they are fed a mix of porridge, honey and milk, and the "slurping" noise they make eating this is deafening! It's rather like the noise you get when you're drinking a milkshake through a straw and you're down to the dregs... The staff have to get up at 3am to start making this breakfast, which shows commitment! The bears also make a humming sound, sounding exactly like a swarm of bees, when they are resting and contented, which is quite a relaxing background noise.

I'm starting my research tomorrow (doing the trial run before starting it properly on Monday for two weeks) as I have now finalised the plans with Dr Arun, so I will write another blog soon explaining what I am (trying) to do and how it is progressing.

That’s all for now!