The sloth bears, standing on the edge of their compound, were looking longingly across the open deep concrete dry moat, on the opposite side of which stood the public, safe behind their viewing barrier. In the bottom of the moat to take away the starkness of the heavy concrete structure, the keepers had planted some spindly trees in small flower beds and had also planted some grass on a light soil sprinkling scattered across the concrete floor.
One of the bears the male was stretching out over the moat trying to touch the light upper branches dancing in the mid summers breeze. I was passing the compound at the time and watched the large female turn to the male, stepping behind him, and push him off the edge, he stumbled and half fell and half jumped into the moat. He walked up and down half dazed and stopped and looked up in amazement at the now, suspended above him, female as if to say now what do I do?
I contacted the keepers by radio and informed them of what had happened and that some assistance would be needed to get the old fellow back into his enclosure, which sounds easier than it actually is. I ran to the office and arriving at the gun cabinet I unlocked it and loaded the dart gun with the appropriate drug and amount, going back to the stairs leading down to the steel door entrance to the dry moat. The old bear as grumpy as ever charged the door when he saw me, and then as if hehad suddenly remembered that he really didn’t want to be at that end of the moat. Bearing (excuse the pun) in mind that he had been darted from the grill in the door several times before, he turned and ran the thirty yards down to the other end of the moat and sat as if waiting for the world to end.
The keepers had seen this all before and came prepared with a nice fresh crusty loaf of bread that, placed in a poly bag, they had popped into the microwave to make smell really good. Mr grumpy lifted his nose to the air and sniffed and like a lamb resigned to the thought of slaughter, walked straight back to the door where the keepers fed him a couple of bits and I darted him. (Keepers name was Judas :o)) )
The dose was correct for his weight (which on later weighing was found to be so) but he took a little while to “go down”. When he had done so we opened the large double locks to the steel door and entered. The Keepers had placed a ladder down into the moat adjacent to where my grumpy had finally come to rest. And we proceeded to roll him over into a large canvas sheet with eight handles sown into it, wrapping it around him. The purpose made animal moving sheet made a suitable cradle in which to pull him up the ladder without harm, and with sufficient muscle, and rope. We duly attached the rope and the team of keepers pulled him up with me on the ladder underneath him using my shoulder to steer him up the ladder stopping him from falling off and ending suspended in mid air. From start to finish it had so far only taken about fifteen minutes to get Mr Grumpy darted and off the ladder into the large barrow ready to push him around to the den area behind the enclosures.
When I finally got off the ladder, back onto solid, level ground. Grumpy was sitting in the barrow like an oversized, overweight old gentleman having a nap in a deck chair. He appeared to be fast asleep and the keepers were taking the opportunity to have a rest from their arduous task, and some were smoking cigarettes. as I made my reflections he suddenly opened one eye! And all hell let loose, all of a sudden he was off in his barrow to his den at breakneck speed with the keepers pushing hard lest he should get up and run off, It rather reminded me of one of those drinking competitions where one raced from pub to pub pushing your partner in a pram, drinking a pint at each until the participants finally collapsed at pub twenty one?.
Mister Grumpy looked even more animated as he was bumped across the uneven ground in his barrow, swaying from side to side and lolling his head backwards and forwards, further convincing the keepers of the incompetence of all managers, particularly he who set the dart dosage and that he (me) was dead set on killing them all (with the help of a drug crazed sloth bear). I ran ahead carrying the gun and all the accessories that go with it, and opened the den up, the female was still locked out in the enclosure( as were the two other specis of bears and during the rescue she reminding us from time to time by taking long reaching swipes at us all as we worked down in the moat.
I took hold of the animal canvas as the keepers arrived with Grumpy, puffing and blowing, and assisted them to get him back into the den, he weighed a “ton” and it took all of us (still breathing heavily after the back breaking run) to get him finally settled on the floor of the den, suitably covered with a deep layer of straw.
With the canvas now rolled up in the barrow. I proceeded to remove the barbed dart from his haunches and sprayed him suitably with Tetramcin spray as a final precaution to stop any infection occuring in the small wound.
Unwittingly The bear had ended up between myself and my means of escape, (the door, which was now being held open by a worried and expectant looking young keeper). Just as I was evaluating all the possibilities of what would happen should he wake up prematurely, he sat bolt upright, opened his eyes looked at me as if to say what are you doing here? and started to moan and tremble violently, The next thing I heard was the slam of the den door behind me. I then saw an apologetic and sympathetic face appear at the small grilled observation panel presumably to see just how well the bear was getting on with the eating of the manager?
Now ! it is my firm belief that when you are really in the “Unko” one should just get on with it! So, I nonchalantly pushed the bear out of the way (who promptly fell over like a drunken man into the deep straw) and I walked to the door banging gently on it and saying in my calmest managerial voice, fully expecting at any time the delivery of a paw the size of a tennis racket with six inch nails around the edge, to decimate my blazer and indeed spine. “Can you let me out please?” To which the face appeared again and said “Oh Yes sir certainly! Sorry I forgot you were in there, Yea Right!!
Needless to say that I found out later from the vet that the Bears reactions under sedation whilst rare were to be expected, and he recovered fully within a couple of hours, not remembering anything about what happened to him, or being none the worse for his escapade.
The distinctive, rancid fat, smell of a close up male sloth bear will be remembered by me for the rest of my life!!!!! as will the cheap aftershave, I were that day, be remembered by the bear I have no doubt whatsoever. They were settled in a new very much larger home after this escapade, and I am told are still alive today. I really wouldnt have any wild animals in captivity if it wasnt for the total decimation and poaching of both their habitat and specis. I believe that it is important that we preserve a gene pool of healthy breading annimals for reintroduction into controlled areas of the world when suitably available. I further believe that captive bred animals will never truly be safe in a wild situation and we must always protect and nurture those specis, It is our duty. I do go on! sorry. I also believe that anyone exploiting animals when it is not in that animals best interest should be dealt with by the law of that country! (takes of serious head...........)