Dancing Bear Rescue
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. A nomadic tribe called the Kalandars used the bears to entertain villagers and tourists who would pay to watch the bear ‘dance’ while in tremendous pain. A red hot poker would be driven through the muzzle of the bear, often a baby, with no anaesthetic, and a coarse rope would be strung through the wound left behind. The rope would then be tugged and yanked to produce a ‘dance’ and for many bears over the years, this is the only existence they knew.
With the help of our partners Wildlife SOS, we have rescued over 620 dancing bears from this cruel trade and in 2009 we rescued the very last one. The sanctuaries in India currently care for 300 bears where we provide a lasting home for them to live out their days in peace.
Our Bear Sanctuaries
In 2002 we helped our partners Wildlife SOS complete the construction of the Agra bear sanctuary, enabling us to rescue the first six bears on 24 December 2002. From then on the project went from strength to strength, becoming so successful that by the end of 2009 we had rescued all the dancing bears from the streets of India. The majority are housed in Agra, others at a second sanctuary in Bannerghatta near Bangalore in the south and a small number at a third centre in Bhopal, central India.
We are committed to providing the rescued bears with a safe haven where they can live free from fear and pain for the rest of their lives. We aim to give them not only food and shelter but an environment which is as close as possible to life in the wild. The bears have plenty of trees to climb in the free-roaming forest and bathing pools where they can play and cool down in the heat of the day. We work hard to keep the bears healthy and happy. They are given regular medical and dental checks and enjoy a range of environmental enrichment to keep them mentally and physically active.
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. We will continue to work with Wildlife SOS to track down the smugglers and cut these bears free.
The Agra Bear Rescue Facility lies a few kilometres north of the famous Taj Mahal in the north of India. It is run by our Indian partners Wildlife SOS and their expert team of vets and keepers. The facility is situated on land within the government-owned Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, under the overall supervision of the Uttar Pradesh Forestry Department. The sanctuary provides a beautiful natural forest habitat where the bears roam freely after a period of quarantine and rehabilitation. The socialisation areas have freshwater bathing pools, purpose-built dens, feeding and resting areas, as well as climbing frames and other types of other environmental enrichment.
The sanctuary is fully equipped to treat and rehabilitate rescued bears with state of the art veterinary surgeries, allowing accurate diagnosis of injuries and ailments for swift and efficient treatment. As well as suffering from malnutrition and often from diseases such as tuberculosis and leptospirosis, the bears also often need surgery for horrific nose wounds, broken teeth and infected gums.
In 2006 International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS signed an agreement on an additional area of land across the river to expand the facility. More dens are needed, as well as extensive planting of trees and other vegetation to reforest the former farmland. Gradually, thanks to the loyalty and generosity of our supporters, we are creating a perfect paradise where bears can rest and recover from the trauma of their lives on the streets.
At the end of 2005 International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS were given the chance to set up a second sanctuary for dancing bears in India within the beautiful Bannerghatta Safari Park outside Bangalore.
The nature reserve is home to antelope, elephants, tigers, crocodiles and a variety of wild birds, and at the centre of the forest is a 37 acre area set aside for bears. Twenty-six bears were being kept in cages in the park in appalling conditions. They were suffering terribly from their long imprisonment and showing signs of psychological and physical trauma.
The Indian Conservator of Forests was extremely concerned when he learned of the neglect of the bears. He contacted Wildlife SOS for advice, who in turn called on International Animal Rescue for help.
Once the Conservator of Forests had visited the Agra bear sanctuary he knew International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS could be trusted to look after the bears in Bannerghatta. Our two charities were given the go ahead to care for them and give them their freedom, and also to convert their prison into a brand new sanctuary for other rescued bears in the south of India.
This was a major breakthrough in our campaign to rescue bears in India. It spelled an end to the misery of the 26 bears and also provided the foundations for the sanctuary in southern India that we had been looking for.
Since those early days, much money and time has been invested in Bannerghatta so that the care and housing it provides for the bears equal the standards in Agra.