An Interview with Dr. Arun the senior vet at the Wildlife SOS Bannerghata Bear Rescue Centre
Dr. Arun has is our senior vet at the Bannerghata Bear Rescue Center. He has been working with our rescued bears for many years now. He is a very intelligent, compassionate and hard working vet. The bears are in extremely good hands under his care. We thought you might enjoy getting to know him a little bit better.
- How and when did you join WSOS?
I was doing my masters in wildlife medicine in Chennai when the head of my department at the university told me that an organization called Wildlife SOS was looking for wildlife vets. I applied for the position and was called for a working interview in Agra. They said it would be a 3 day interview so they could observe my skills in the field. When I reached Agra there was a bear named Raveena who was being taken into the hospital for treatment. They asked me to assist with her treatment and the Senior Vet at the center asked me what I would do in the situation. I answered and he put me on Raveena' s post op duty. What was supposed to be a 3 day visit became an 11 day care package for her. After she got better, I went back to the University because I still had 3 months of course work left. That is when Kartick Satyanaryan, one of the co-founders of Wildlife SOS, called me and offered me the job. It has been 8 years since I got that phone call.
- What is your typical day like at the center?
My day begins with assigning duties to all the keepers and separating medicines for specific bears. During the bears breakfast I do my observation and rounds. After that it is treatments and examinations. Afternoons are left for meetings and supervising the building of enrichment structure. I supervise the feeding sometimes. In the evening I do another round of observations, especially for the bears that were in the forest enclosure for the day
- Do bears have any specific characteristics that you have noticed?
The grunting sound they do is a different characteristic. The other thing I have noticed especially in captive bears is that they will chase people when somebody runs. Therefore, as part of the keepers training they are instructed to not run to avoid bears chasing them.
- Have you ever been injured by a bear?
Yes! One day we had rescued 5 dancing bears from a village and brought them back to the center. While I was observing one of them, I didn' t notice that my foot was very close to the other bears den. Within two seconds a bear named Bharathi bit into my shoe, before I could get my leg away. My shoe was torn and I had injured my toe.
- How many wild bears have you rescued and treated? Any other animals?
I have rescued around 10 wild bears and treated them. Most of them have been from terrible man-animal conflict situations where bears have been attacked by villagers and badly injured. Apart from bears, I have rescued 8 leopards, 2 Monitor Lizard and 2 Pangolins. I have also been called to help with 8 elephant treatment and examinations by other zoos and national parks.
- What do you do to keep the bears active?
We create enrichments on a weekly basis to physically and mentally stimulate the bears. We have volunteers who bring us lovely gifts like the Aussie Dog Balls. A few other volunteers have helped build hammocks and climbing frames for the bears. Since the bears love climbing we build a lot of climbing enrichment for them. Sometimes the simplest thing is to hide a fruit in a tree. Our keepers also hide groundnuts in the ground, fruits on the tree and rub honey on specific objects to help the bears improve their senses.
- Do you have any new ideas for their enrichment?
Yes I do. I keep thinking if we should camouflage a remote control car and leave it in the enclosure to see how the bears react to it and if they run behind it. It could be used as exercise enrichment. It is just an idea.
- Do you have any favorite bears?
I like them all but yes I do have a favorite bear. Her name is Deepthi. She is the most adjusting and calm bear I have ever met. Because these bears are all captive and now live together, there have been cases of some bears not getting along. So we separate the two bears that are unfriendly with each other and always move one bear to Deepthi' s enclosure. It is almost like she has an aura of calm because invariably the aggressive bear will start calming down and in a few weeks you will see a behavior change. I was a bit skeptical the first time, but we have tried this intervention 5 times now, and every time the bear has had an attitude shift. Deepthi makes it easier for us to figure out how to calm the aggressive bear