Friday, March 25, 2011

Sloth Bear

When you think of large predators, especially in India, one usually thinks of a Bengal tiger. Last night I was watching National Geographic and they were talking about a species of bear in India and Sri-Lanka called the Sloth Bear. Although not actually related to the sloth, this bear, appears slow, has long curved claws like a sloth, and feeds primarily on ants and termites. What really caught my attention however was the aggressive nature of the sloth bear, and how it is known throughout India as one of the most dangerous animals in the country. The sloth bear is known to attack completely unprovoked, and usually charges humans on sight. The really scary part is that this particular bear always goes for the face. Attack victims usually have their noses, ears, lips, and eyelids torn off. Even survivors are usually maimed for life.

It may be my own morbid curiosity, but really I think it's my fascination with bears (and animals in general), but after learning a little about this savage little known bear on the television I immediately had to know more. I picked up my laptop and did some research and found some really interesting stuff. First of all it's not that big for a bear. They typically weigh around 200 pounds, the largest adults topping out at around 300, which is smaller than even the American black bear. What sets the sloth bear apart however is it's aggressiveness and fierce reputation among the Indians. In fact I read on one website that Indians fear the sloth bear more than Bengal tigers and the country’s dozens of killer snakes, including pythons, Russels vipers (which in itself is amazing because this snake kills thousands of people worldwide every year), and even cobra's. In fact in Mammalia of India, Robert Sterndale writes:

The sloth bear is also more inclined to attack man unprovoked than almost any other animal, and casualties inflicted by it are unfortunately very common, the victim being often terribly disfigured even if not killed, as the bear strikes at the head and face. Blanford was inclined to consider bears more dangerous than tigers...

This fearsome reputation no doubt is a direct result of the animals aggressiveness and tendency to maul the face, but sloth bears apparently also have a taste for limbs. Instead of killing the human victim outright sloth bears will gnaw, chew, and suckle on the limbs, while the victim is still alive and pinned underneath. Oddly enough sloth bears don’t actually eat the victims, but instead run away after a good mauling. Scientists say this is because sloth bears view humans not as prey, but as predators, and that this behavior is also exhibited toward Bengal tigers and Indian leopards.

Numbers for the entire country of India seem non-existent but some regional statistics are:

  • In the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh between 1989 and 1994, sloth bears killed 48 people and injured 686 others.

  • In the Indian State of Chhattisgarh between 1998 and 2000, sloth bears attacked 137 people and killed 11.

Now, there are 28 states and 7 territories in India, and over one billion people. Though the sloth bears range is limited due to habitat loss, and the fact that they prefer lower, heavily wooded areas, one can still imagine that the number of sloth bear attacks on humans per year is probably pretty high, just based off of those numbers.

I said before that sloth bears generally don't eat their human victims, but I did find one notorious case of a man-eater known as “The Sloth bear of Mysore”. This one bear mauled 36 people, killing 12. Eventually after several unsuccessful hunts, the bear was finally shot and killed. I won't go into details, but the story is well documented and can be read about here:

It's amazing how many people die in India every year from wild animals. I could have sworn the documentary I was watching last night claimed something like 20,000 people every year are killed by wild animals. I couldn't find anything to support that (although admittedly I don’t have the resources of National Geographic) but I did find a very interesting New York Times article from 1882 that gave a figure of 21,990 deaths in 1880. The animals listed as responsible are more of the usual suspects, tigers, wolves, and snakes (being the big one), but no sloth bears. You can read the article here:

Considering that India now has over a billion people it's not really hard to imagine that with such a plethora of deadly animals that number could be accurate even today. Especially considering that rural India is still very much 3rd world. Lacking modern emergency services, or even communications and transportation systems, one can easily see how someone in India could die from an infection or broken leg, let alone a wild animal attack.

Anyways, I just thought it was interesting that there existed this bear that I'd never heard of that was so notorious. Oddly enough, one of the things I read is that sloth bears are easily tamable. I know, it doesn't really jive with their reputation, but apparently they are even trained to dance. It's actually quite cruel. They are poached as cubes, their nose is pierced and a rope passed through it for easy control. You can read about it here:

I don't know where I'm going with this, and am really just thinking out loud. You know whats really funny though? I actually think about stuff like this all the damn time.

Here are my other references I used:

Monday, March 7, 2011

I'm at a funeral....

I am at a funeral. It's my cousins but I did not know her that well. When I look around I see many strange faces. Even the faces of the people I know are strange. They are my blood, but the years between visits make things unfamiliar. My cousins name was Delane. She lived in the same town as me. I hadn’t seen her in many years. In December the doctors said she had cancer, and now she's dead.

My mom told me that she sat at her bedside in the hospital and cried. I feel sad for my mom. When I look around the church and I see other people cry I feel sad for them too. Ever since I was a kid it was hard for me to see people cry. I guess I should be crying too but I am not hurting like I should be. I loved my cousin but I didn't really know her.

It's not that I don't have heart, because I do. Everyone knows that I am the one who always cries. It's pathetic. I cry sometimes when I watch movies, even during scenes that I don't think the movies makers intended for people to cry. Sometimes I cry when I watch shows on tv. On my favorite show LOST I probably cried a couple dozen times.

I can usually hide it really well. I angle my face slightly away from whoever is watching with me. I make a fist with one hand, (usually the hand closest to the person) and bring it up to rest my face against, like I was tired or something. And sometimes, if it's a particularly sad scene (like when Sawyer and Juliette meet again at the end of LOST) I will make a coughing sound. That way if someone hears me sniffling, they'll think that I am coming down with a cold, instead of crying.

The sad part is that I knew the characters on the show LOST better than my own cousin. But I guess that’s what time does to relationships sometimes. Not that it's the fault of time, but rather the result of it, sometimes. I've heard that some people don't even speak to their own parents. They grow up and find a career and a family, and they have insurance payments and mortgages and dance lessons, and they get too wrapped up in their own lives to bother in the lives of other people. It's much easier to worry about yourself.

Or maybe it's just that some people are too hard headed. That’s especially true with men I think; too stubborn and too proud. In school I used to fight all the time, and my teachers would often say, “Mike, it takes a bigger man to walk away.” At the time I always thought they were just trying to trick me into not getting into trouble. Now though, I see that there is some truth behind those words. It does take something more, something bigger, to reach out to someone and say, “Just calling to say hi and see how you're doing,” or “Can I help you with something?” or just plain, “I love you.”... I know this because I want to do it all the time, but I am too hard headed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I am on a stretcher...

I am on a stretcher being pushed through the narrow corridors of the much-too-brightly lit emergency room. My left arm draped over my face covering my eyes. Not from the light, but from my own embarrassment. When kids are embarrassed they cover their eyes, or hide behind someone, and that’s what I feel like, a little kid. It’s weird how men feel embarrassed and ashamed when we get hurt. It’s as if we’ve failed at something… As if we’ve been beaten.

It’s as if the castle walls that have stood for an age guarding our secret truths have been besieged. The mighty stone blocks fixed around us, protecting our child’s heart, cracked. And if someone is paying attention, if someone is looking close enough, they can see that you’re not so tough after all. They can peer through the fracture and see that little boy who cringes wide-eyed in fear in the dark of his bedroom when the adults yell and fight. They can see the teenage boy, smile etched on his face, aglow with the boundless hope that the cute girl at school will feel the same way about him as he does for her… They can see the sorrow on his face when he finds out she doesn’t… she never does.

I have my own room now. My doctor tells me I need an MRI, but my insurance won’t cover it. In the meantime it’s lots of drugs. My mom is there. She always takes care of me when I’m hurt. She loves me and that is comforting. The love moms have for their children is so strong that I think non-moms don’t really understand. My mom used to say to me, “Michael, do you know how much I love you?” And I would reply, “Yes, of course I do mom.” But I really didn’t have a clue. Mom’s love completely transcends understanding. It’s a force, stronger than the pyramids, more powerful than the atom, deeper than the deepest ocean abyss. Mom’s love is life itself.

The doctor sends me home, but instead I go to my grandmas. She will take care of me while I heal. I lay on the bed while my mom takes my shoes off and grandma prepares some lunch. I know I am blessed to have these women in my life, and I vow then that I would rather die a slow painfully agonizing death than to see either of these women spend one day in a nursing home, because people need to be with the people that they love.

It’s something I learned on New Years. After 4 days of non-stop drinking I awoke Sunday morning feeling like death incarnate. I literally felt like I was going to die. I lay alone on the couch. My heart beating so hard I can see my shirt rising and falling with the rhythm. My chest hurt, I couldn’t breathe. None of my family or friends were answering the phone. I began to cry. I stood up and walked down the hall and knocked on Luke’s door. “Luke” I said, “will you come sit with me please?” Luke came out into the living room and sat down with me, and it felt like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders. All of the sudden I felt like everything would be okay… Even If I died, right then and there, at least someone I loved would be there with me.

..To Be Continued…