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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

500th dancing bear rescued in India

International Animal Rescue and Wildlife SOS have announced the rescue of the 500th dancing bear from the streets of India.

This is a major milestone in the campaign to cut free all the dancing bears in India and provide them with a safe haven for the rest of their lives. IAR is nominating 2009 as The Year of the Bear because we believe it will be the year in which we end the practice of dancing bears in India for good.

Chitra, just a few moments away from freedomChitra, a female sloth bear, has just been surrendered to the Bannerghatta bear sanctuary near Bangalore which is funded by International Animal Rescue and run by Wildlife SOS. Chitra is approximately 12 years old but weighs a scrawny 62 kilos. When she was rescued she was frightened and timid and crouched on the floor expecting to be beaten.

Geeta Seshamani of Wildlife SOS said "Chitra's muzzle was painfully swollen and inflamed as it had been pierced several times in the past, resulting in a huge tear down one side. The ring had been inserted into her delicate muzzle when she was just months old and it was biting into her delicate skin and infected with pus. We had to remove the ring surgically along with her neck ropes that were also very tight. Chitra's canine teeth had been knocked out, with great trauma to the roots, and she came in suffering a longstanding mouth inflammation with ulceration inside."

Chitra surrendered by her Kalandar ownerAlan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue: "We are well on the way to ending the trade in dancing bears in India altogether. By nominating 2009 as International Animal Rescue's Year of the Bear we aim to give a new impetus to the campaign and rescue all the remaining bears off the streets. In the New Year we will be promoting a new bear adoption programme which will enable our supporters to sponsor individual bears in our sanctuaries and follow their progress back to health. We're also planning some exciting fundraising events and hope to enlist the support of our patrons to ensure they are a real success. Comedians Jo Brand and Bill Bailey have been incredibly supportive of our work in the past and we're hoping they can spare the time to help us out again during our Year of the Bear.

The first six bears were rescued on Christmas Eve 2002 when the sanctuary in Agra opened its doors. Since then International Animal Rescue in the UK with the support from Free the Bears Fund, Australia, has worked with partners Wildlife SOS to rescue and rehabilitate adult bears and cubs that were poached from the wild and destined for a life on the streets. The charities believe there are now only about 130 dancing bears awaiting rescue.

Cutting the ring from Chitra's muzzle with a bolt cutterDancing bears suffer terrible cruelty during their lives on the streets, resulting in lasting physical and psychological damage. The charity's Christmas appeal, supported by Bill Bailey, highlights the plight of those bears that have gone blind as a result of malnutrition or brutal beatings to the head. International Animal Rescue is raising funds to provide additional environmental enrichment for them to stimulate their other senses and ward off boredom and depression.

The two charities have already identified more bears in remote villages still waiting to be rescued. The majority are in very poor condition and in need of medical care. They will be rescued as soon as more night dens have been built for them at the sanctuaries.

Alan Knight concludes: "It's hard to be patient when we know animals are suffering. But we are more determined than ever to rescue all the remaining bears, and 2009 is the year in which we intend to do it.

"This Christmas we'll be celebrating our success so far, but we won't forget the bears still in need of our help. By this time next year I hope we'll be having a huge celebration because all the dancing bears in India are safely in our care."