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Free the dancing bears

Nileena M.S.
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Captured sloth bears are being rescued as part of a nation-wide campaign.

This is cruelty:Sloth bears in captivity.Photo: Reuters
This is cruelty:Sloth bears in captivity.Photo: Reuters

Like Baloo, the character from The Jungle Book , bears feature as important characters in many of our favourite stories. But, have you seen the images of bears abused so that their owners can make a living out of it?

The horrible practice of dancing bears and the rescue and rehabilitation projects to check this was one of the issues discussed at a symposium held in the city recently attended by many animal welfare organisations in India. Dr. Arun Sha, veterinary officer at Wildlife SOS's Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre, in his presentation explaining the projects carried out by the organisation to prevent this practice, said that sloth bears were mainly poached for this purpose. Wildlife SOS with the support of the Government and other organisations had rescued 600 dancing bears. According to International Animal Rescue, the last dancing bear was saved in December 2009.

The practice of using dancing bears for entertainment in India dates back to the Mughal era when Kalandars were employed in courts. Though it was banned by law in 1972, studies found that as of 2002, there were more than 1,200 dancing bears all over the country. 

Sold as cubs

Bears were caught at a young age and trained to perform. The sale of sloth bear cubs was common even in the highways of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. They were poorly fed and suffered from many physical difficulties. The nocturnal animals were made to walk long distances in harsh daylight and made to live solitary lives.

According to Dr. Sha, the rescue and rehabilitation projects required a holistic approach involving rehabilitation of the Kalandar community who depended on tamed bears for a living. They received money for surrendering their bears and were given help to set up small businesses. The bears at the rescue centres, after health check-up and treatment were gradually let to socialise with other bears in the centres. They take time to get used to their new world of freedom. If they were pronounced fit by veterinary doctors, they were released into a wider forest area.


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