Celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the Rescue of India’s Last Dancing Bear

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Wildlife SOS brought the cruel practice of "dancing bears" to an end in 2009, completing one of the world’s most successful conservation projects

Kartick Satyanarayan with one of the rescued bear cubs resident in the Wildlife SOS sanctuary.

The bears have left behind a traumatic past of cruelty and deprivation to be rehabilitated in large open forested enclosures with good food and medical care.

On Christmas Eve, 2002, Wildlife SOS rescued the first dancing bears off the streets. This event marked the beginning of a campaign that was to end the suffering of more than 600 sloth bears and provide them with a safe haven for the remainder of their lives.

On December 18, 2009, the charity celebrated the historic rescue of Raju, the last dancing bear in India. Representatives from Wildlife SOS were at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre to witness his surrender by his Kalandar handler. The center is one of the four sanctuaries in India established by Wildlife SOS and supported by International Animal Rescue UK, and Free The Bears Australia.

Having spent years in captivity on the end of a short length of rope, the former dancing bears are no longer equipped physically or mentally to survive in the wild. With a dedicated team of vets and caretakers at Wildlife SOS, the rescued bears have been provided with an environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild.

Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said: “It is a source of great satisfaction to have pioneered a project of sustainable conservation. The Kalandar community has benefitted with a better quality of life through alternative livelihoods. Their women are now second income earners through training and seed funds and their children now go to school. The bears have left behind a traumatic past of cruelty and deprivation to be rehabilitated in large open forested enclosures with good food and medical care.

Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said “We applaud Wildlife SOS for saving the lives of hundreds of bears over the years. Their work has made a real difference and no doubt will continue to do so for as long as the animals need them. Wild bears continue to be highly prized by poachers for bear baiting, for use of their body parts in traditional Chinese medicine and for bear bile and so the efforts of WSOS to preserve and protect them are more vital than ever.”

In addition to caring for the rescued bears, Wildlife SOS’s team comes to the aid of wild bears that are increasingly caught up in conflict situations. Most recently, a female bear was badly injured after being shot in the leg. She and her cub were rescued by the team and rushed to the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre for treatment. The mother bear has undergone two complex surgical operations to remove bone fragments from her dislocated elbow and to remove pieces of shot from her leg. It is doubtful whether she will ever walk on her damaged leg again.

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said: “This is the sixth time this year that our team has been called upon to assist the Forest Department with the rescue of trapped or injured wild bears. As the human population continues to grow and encroach further into wildlife habitats, bears and other wild animals are increasingly exposed to poachers, hunters and other threats. In spite of international and national laws to protect them, endangered species like sloth bears continue to be persecuted and exploited. If it weren’t for the action of our rescue team, the bears they have rescued this year would certainly have perished, trapped in vicious snares or dying a lingering death from gunshot wounds.”

Wildlife S.O.S’s work in the field of Dancing Bear Rescue, Rehabilitation and Kalandar Community Rehabilitation is supported by International Animal Rescue UK, and Free The Bears Australia. The Anti- poaching unit of Wildlife SOS “Forest Watch” is run with support from One Voice, Humane Society International, Australia, and Hauser Bears, UK and helps monitor illegal trade in wild animals and their parts mainly operating through a network of informers and decoys, assisting enforcement agencies across India with such intelligence.

About Wildlife SOS: A nonprofit organization, Wildlife SOS is one of the largest rescue and conservation charities in South Asia. The nonprofit operates ten wildlife rehabilitation facilities across India, including the world's largest sloth bear rescue center and the chain free Elephant Conservation and Care Center, which is the first of its kind in India and currently houses seven rescued elephants. Wildlife SOS runs a tribal rehabilitation project that aims to create an alternative livelihood for poachers and other indigenous communities that used to depend on wildlife for a livelihood. Additionally, they run a leopard rescue center, a wildlife hotline in New Delhi and 'Forest Watch' which is an anti-poaching wildlife crime enforcement unit.

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Kate Schnepel

Suvidha Bhatnagar
Wildlife SOS India
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