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)
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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 bear had its own identity documents and performed in street shows with its owner (stock photo description, from Adobe Stock).
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.
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