A man from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, has had a pet bear since 1990. He found the 1.5 month old bear in his friends’ house in a mountain village . They told him the mother bear was killed by hunters, and the bear cub was found in a ravine, nursing a broken paw. The man liked the bear and swapped him for a bag of flour and a goat (just like the story from Borat).
The bear cub turn out to be female. At that time, Russian TV showed a Mexican TV show called “Just Maria”, so he name the bear after a character in that show.
“I fed her like a baby, even gave her breast milk so it would grow smart. It became smart and very kind, and likes people very much. She became like a daughter to me, or like a granddaughter”
“Thousands of people pass by and don’t say ‘hello’, I say to Maria, Look Maria, people stopped greet each other, and they still call themselves humans. Let’s teach them. Stand up. The bear stands up and bows to people, and I say look and become smart like my bear”
He and the bear travel around other ex-Soviet republics – Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan (hi Borat), and Uzbekistan. He say he loves his bear like a real daughter. He calls her “daughter” as well. He himself had 13 kids.
In 2012 the old man died. He was over 80 years old. The bear was taken to the zoo. For the first few days she couldn’t sleep, and refused to eat. Little by little she came around and made friends with zoo workers.
The man’s youngest son is just 18, and he grew up with bear and comes to the zoo every Sunday to see the bear. For the first year he says the bear was angry with them and didn’t want to “talk”.