Free Indian Widower Jailed for Raising Orphan Bear

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


File: Ram Singh Munda, 35, and his daughter feed their pet sloth bear Rani at Gahatagaon village, India.

NEW DELHI — It was supposed to be a heartwarming tale of a man who brought an orphaned bear cub home from the forests of eastern India to become part of the family, consoling his small daughter who had just lost her mother.

But when wildlife officials saw the story in the local media last week, it turned to tragedy.

Ram Singh Munda, 35, was arrested and jailed for violating wildlife laws, the bear was sent to a zoo where it has refused to eat, and the abandoned six-year-old daughter has been shipped off to a state-run boarding school.

Now animal rights activists, impressed by Munda’s compassion, are trying to win his freedom and reunite the family.

“We strongly condemn the manner in which the forest department officials arrested the poor and illiterate man who was not aware of the government’s rules and regulations,” Jiban Ballav Das, the head of People for Animals in India’s Orissa state, said Tuesday.

Munda, a laborer from the indigenous tribes that live in the forests some 125 miles north of the state capital Bhubaneswar, said he found the sloth bear cub last year while gathering firewood.

He brought the bear home, named her Rani, or Queen, and she became a member of the family, which was still struggling to overcome the death of Munda’s wife the previous year.

Television footage taken at a happier time shows the bear frolicking with his daughter, Dulki, the two of them clumsily trying to climb up on the back of Munda’s bicycle.

Wildlife officials saw the news stories and arrested Munda last week for breaking the county’s wildlife act that prohibits keeping wild animals. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

“They have sent me to the jail. How will my daughter survive?” Munda told a cable news channel while being taken to prison.

“I cannot understand why I was punished for taking good care of a bear that was deserted in the forest and would have died had I not brought her home,” he said.

Munda said that when wildlife officials first approached him he tried to return the bear to the forest but it found it’s way home.

Local government official Biranchi Nayak said the daughter would be sent to a boarding school until her father was released.

Ajit Kumar Patnaik, a senior wildlife officer and director of the Nandan Kanan Zoo, where Rani was taken, defended the decision.

“Munda was arrested according to the provision of the law meant for protection of wildlife,” he told the Press Trust of India, adding that sloth bears are a protected species.

But animal rights activists said that while they condemn taking wild animals out the forest and support the decision to try to rehabilitate the bear, the government was being too harsh on Mandu

“He never tortured the animal. Neither was he using the bear for any commercial purposes. Therefore, we feel he should not have been arrested,” said Das.

The bear, too, was being unfairly treated and might die if the sudden separation from her adopted family was not managed properly, animal activists said.

The bear was being kept in an isolated cage at the zoo and was refusing to eat, apparently pining for Munda and his daughter, said Biswajit Mohanty, the secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.

“Bears are known for the strong bonding they develop with human beings and therefore they are highly attached to their keepers,” he told PTI.

Das said the animal organizations were mobilizing to help Munda, organizing legal aid and trying to make better arrangements for his daughter.

“We have decided to give him a job in our animal rehabilitation center in Bhubaneswar as a caretaker,” he said.


3 Responses to “Free Indian Widower Jailed for Raising Orphan Bear”

  1. Karen V. Stefanini Says:

    What can be done to help this situation — is there a donation website available? This adoption of Rani by a very special man is such a lovely story. What is nonsensical about this is that gypsies are tormenting these precious bundles of joy by keeping them in heinous conditions throughout India as dancing bears!!! What can be done to protect Rani who was loved and treated with kindness from the heartbreaking separation she is now enduring and what can be done to protect the wonderful sloth bears from the cruel fate of becoming a dancing bear?

  2. Kate Says:

    Is there any updated information? I have been looking all over and can’t find any article of what was eventually decided?

  3. Rach Says:

    It was wrong to treat Munda like that, animal laws are vital, but if he isen’t aware of them and never injuried the animal, then there isen’t a right to punish. Its sad that bears are often captured and used for entertament, but both conservationests and animal rights of protection laws are fighting to protect bears, defending there right to live and prosper on their own without our presents, one day zoos will be a thing of the past, a zoos goal is to one day return the wild animals to the wild, but until the poatching and abuse of animals is stopped zoos will continue to exist to protect and care for them, where as in the wild some rare species stand out and become targets.

    It might be best if you want to gather more information on Rani to look into the zoo/animal care centre named on this article, and take a look at “the international zoo year books” (volumes) that are very useful areas of data that contain articles on zoos past and present animal statuses, this will help you investagate the issue with bears. =)

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