He was known as the Bear Man of Dushanbe
August 27, 2019 11:15 AM   Subscribe

An old man with a bushy white beard and his bear, Maria (Flickr), were a regular fixture in the Tajik capital for the over 20 years, strolling along streets, posing for photos, even riding public transport (Pikchaz blog). In 2015, Tajik social media users wanted to raise money to build a statue of "bear man" Talabshoh Sheikhov and Maria, both of whom died in 2013. (RadioFreeEurope / RadioLiberty)

More from RFE/RL
In interviews with Tajik media over the years, Sheikhov said he first saw Maria -- then a six-week-old cub -- at a neighbor's house in the early 1990s.

The neighbor wanted to sell the cub, whose mother was killed by hunters. Sheikhov traded a goat for the cub and took her home.

He named her Maria, after the heroine of a Mexican soap opera that was wildly popular on a Russian television channel at the time.

Maria was raised with bottle milk and food Sheikhov's "other 13 children" shared in their modest house in Yalash, a village in Tajikistan's eastern Jirgatol district.

But Maria's ever-growing appetite soon became increasingly unaffordable for her master, who affectionately called the bear "my daughter."

In one interview, Sheikhov said the bear would eat 10-12 kilograms of food a day.

Sheikhov left the village and his family behind and settled with Maria in Dushanbe, where he put the bear to work to help foot the bill.

Residents say she would entertain children with her forward rolls and give them rides on her back under the watchful eyes of her master, who kept Maria on a leash.
The bear had its own identity documents and performed in street shows with its owner (stock photo description, from Adobe Stock).
posted by filthy light thief (5 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks particularly to this image, Talabshoh and Maria were known across the internet, and often mis-located, as seen in this photo of a photo with at least two layers of watermarks.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:19 AM on August 27, 2019

No updates regarding the statue? Reminds me of the tale of Wojtek the soldier bear. Who I always thought would make a good subject of a graphic novel.
posted by PandaMomentum at 11:25 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

No updates regarding the statue?

None that I could find. Maybe a MeFite knows more, or could find more.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:45 AM on August 27, 2019

I am trying not to be a downer, but witnessing this whole thing in person was as depressing as you'd imagine. You felt bad for the man and bad for the bear.

It was amusing to watch them go around town, popping into stores and restaurants like it was no big deal, though.

I can't find it now, but I once read a profile of Sheikhov which said he was like 78 and had a 7-year old kid. Mashallah.
posted by NBelarski at 12:46 PM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I think the ideal situation would have been for Sheikhov to take the bear cub to an animal sanctuary instead of raising a wild bear as a pet/ family member, who ends up being very costly, due to her appetite.

But I don't know if that was an option when he found the cub, and I know pet/ trained bears were still an attraction in Russia in the early 2000s. Not the happiest of human/ animal interest stories, but I thought that the local push for a monument to Sheikhov and Maria was something of a sweet final note to the story.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:09 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

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