Reunite an Indian family! Release man for caring for a bear cub and bring his daughter back.

  • by: Trina Patel
  • target: Wildlife Officials of Orissa state, India

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 (200 kilometers) 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 the CNN-IBN news channel while being taken to prison.

%u2018I 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,%u2019 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.

Senior wildlife officer and director of the Nandan Kanan Zoo, where Rani was taken, defended the decision.

%u2018Munda was arrested according to the provision of the law meant for protection of wildlife,%u2019 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 Munda.

%u2018He never tortured the animal. Neither was he was using the bear for any commercial purposes. Therefore, we feel he should not have been arrested,%u2019 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.

%u2018Bears are known for the strong bonding they develop with human beings and therefore they are highly attached to their keepers,%u2019 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.

%u2018We have decided to give him a job in our animal rehabilitation center in Bhubaneswar as a caretaker,%u2019 he said.

We, the undersigned, understand that the actions you have taken are necessary to protect the government regulations of Orissa. We support the work that you do to help India's wildlife.

However, Ram Singh Munda is a man without ill intentions and he has been conceived as a criminal when his actions reflect morality. He offered this vulnerable little creature a life. He brought the orphaned bear cub into a family. There is no denying that laws have been broken and punishments are required. But for attempting to do good, it seems unjust that this man is in jail and his daughter was sent away to boarding school. This man's ethical actions should not cause such trauma for all members of this family.

Please reconsider his time in jail and bring his daughter home. Please do not allow the bear to suffer further after having its new family taken away. The bear will not eat because of its new surroundings and the unfamiliar people around it. We all want a happy ending for this family.

We thank the Wildlife Officials in Orissa, India for your time and greatly appreciate your understanding.
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