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Sri Lanka Soldiers Fight for Bear

January 7, 1998

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ Government troops battling Tamil Tiger guerrillas have taken on a more benevolent task _ saving the life of a bear wounded in the fighting in Sri Lanka’s northern jungles.

Soldiers found the female Ceylon Sloth Bear lying unconscious beneath a tree on Dec. 25. Medics believed it was injured by a hand grenade explosion and carried it on a stretcher to their jungle base 235 kilometers (145 miles) northeast of the capital, Colombo.

They were unable to revive it, so Sri Lanka’s air force airlifted the bear to Anuradhapura, 70 kilometers (45 miles) away, for treatment by veterinarians. It awoke on New Year’s Day but was in shock and almost totally blind from the explosion.

A 14-year insurgency on Sri Lanka, an island formerly known as Ceylon off the southern tip of India, has left more than 50,000 people dead. Rebels are fighting to carve out an ethnic homeland in the north, claiming Tamils are discriminated against in predominately Sinhalese Sri Lanka.

The animal, which is black with a white chest and weighs 75 kilograms (160 pounds), was sent next to Colombo where veterinarians from the Department of Wildlife Conservation began round-the-clock care. It suffers from brain damage and has lost use of its left eye.

``She is progressing very well. She started walking today and is regaining sight in her right eye,″ said Nandana Atapattu, a deputy director of wildlife conservation.

The 3-year-old bear belongs to an endangered species found only in India and Sri Lanka. Fewer than 1,000 wild Ceylon Sloth Bears are believed to live in Sri Lanka, and their numbers are dwindling due to the loss of habitat.

Officials believe the injured female will recover enough to survive in the wild on a normal diet of berries, insects and honey. They hope to release her in a southern national park, far from the fighting, in about 10 days.

``We don’t want to domesticate her, so we aren’t even giving her a name,″ Atapattu said.

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