Bear rescue and rehabilitation
The cruel practice of dancing bears was made illegal in India in 1972. However, in the decades that followed sloth bears were still caught from the wild and beaten and mutilated to force them to dance. International Animal Rescue and our Indian partners Wildlife SOS succeeded in bringing this barbaric practice to an end in December 2009 and the rescued bears live in a safe, semi-natural, forested environment in our sanctuaries in India. Since the rescue of the last dancing bear in India, our investigations have shown that some bears have been smuggled across the border into Nepal by their Kalandar handlers and continue to suffer cruelty and abuse. International Animal Rescue will continue to work with Wildlife SOS to track them down and end their suffering.
Dancing bear rescue
International Animal Rescue began working to end the suffering of the dancing bears in India in 2002 when we joined with Wildlife SOS to open a sanctuary for them. From the very early days, the rehabilitation of the bears' handlers formed an integral part of the project, ensuring they would never need to revert to bear dancing as a way of earning a living.
How it works
The Kalandar tribespeople who danced the bears have been taught new trades to help them support their families and enjoy a better way of life. Every Kalandar who has surrendered his bear has received 50,000 rupees to start up a new business. Examples include a cycle repair shop, a carpet weaving business, grocery shops and rickshaw driving. In return the Kalandars have signed a legally binding contract promising never to acquire another bear on pain of arrest, imprisonment and seizure of all assets in order to repay the start-up loan. Some Kalandars who clearly had a genuine bond with their bears have even been employed at the sanctuaries.
After a three month period in quarantine, once they are known to be free of disease, the rescued bears are released into socialisation enclosures where they meet other bears. The bears in our care have been horrifically abused during their lives and it takes time for them to adjust to their new surroundings and learn to trust the people caring for them. This is an even greater challenge for the blind bears who are particularly frightened and unsure. In Agra and Bannerghatta the blind bears live in special, relatively small enclosures where they learn to feel safe and secure. All the rescued bears are provided with regular environmental enrichment to stimulate and amuse them.
Once the bears have spent time socialising with other bears and been pronounced fit by the vets and keepers, they are released into the wider forested area. The freedom to roam among the trees and dense vegetation allows the bears to behave just as they would in the wild, but within the safety of the sanctuaries. Dens built out of local stone give shelter from the heat of the day and the bears can play and cool off in the bathing pools.
A detailed picture is built up of the health of each bear. Many require extensive dental surgery to relieve the pain of having their teeth brutally knocked out. They are fed a nutritious diet containing delicious fruits, porridge and a daily ration of honey - the bears' favourite treat!