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Man in India jailed for caring for orphaned bear
India Bear Misery B 5402511
In this undated photo, Ram Singh Munda, 35, and his daughter feed their pet sloth bear Rani at Gahatagaon village, about 125 miles (200 kilometers) north of Bhubaneswar, India. When wildlife officials learned of Munda, who brought the orphaned bear cub home from the forests of eastern India, where it became part of the family, he was arrested and jailed for violating wildlife laws, the bear was sent to a zoo where it's refusing to eat and the abandoned six-year-old daughter has been shipped off to a state-run boarding school. - photo by Associated Press
    NEW DELHI — It was supposed to be a heartwarming tale of a man who brought an orphaned bear cub home from the forests of India to console his 6-year-old daughter, who had just lost her mother.
    But when wildlife officials saw the story in the local media, it turned to tragedy.
    Ram Singh Munda was arrested and jailed for violating wildlife laws, the bear was sent to a zoo where it refuses to eat and his daughter was sent to a state-run boarding school.
    Now animal rights activists are trying to win the 35-year-old laborer’s freedom and reunite him with his daughter and the bear.
    ‘‘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, of People for Animals in India’s Orissa state, told The Associated Press Tuesday.
    Munda, a member of the indigenous tribes who live in the forests of eastern India, said he found the sloth bear cub last year while gathering firewood near his village of Gahatagaon, about 125 miles north of the state capital, Bhubaneswar.
    He brought the animal home, named her Rani, or Queen, and she became a cherished companion for 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, which prohibits keeping wild animals. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.
    ‘‘They have sent me to jail. How will my daughter survive?’’ Munda told the CNN-IBN news channel as he was taken into custody.
    ‘‘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.
    A local government official, Biranchi Nayak, said Munda’s daughter was being sent to a boarding school until her father is released.
    Ajit Kumar Patnaik, a senior wildlife officer and director of the Nandan Kanan Zoo, where the bear 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, native to the lowland forests of India, are a protected species.
    But animal rights activists say that while they condemn taking wild animals out of the forest, 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.
    Animal rights activists warned the bear could be harmed and might even die if the sudden separation from its adopted human family was not managed properly.
    The bear was being kept in an isolated cage at the zoo and was refusing to eat, 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 Press Trust of India.
    Das said animal welfare organizations were getting legal help for Munda 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’’ once he is released from jail, Das said.

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