Agra bear sanctuary in India enables visitors to take a walk on the wild side
India’s first Wildlife Conservation Education Walkway has been opened at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility funded by International Animal Rescue. The walkway, built by IAR’s partners Wildlife SOS, is designed to raise awareness of the ecological importance of endangered sloth bears and other native Indian wildlife which is increasingly threatened by rampant habitat destruction and deforestation, leading to increased human-animal conflict.
The walkway was inaugurated by Mr Mahendra Aridaman Singh, Transport Minister of the Uttar Pradesh Government on 15 January 2013. It has been built using environmentally friendly bamboo, stone and solar energy to power interactive signage. The aim is to educate school children in particular and encourage future generations to behave responsibly and in an environmentally friendly manner towards India’s forests and wildlife.
The Conservation Education Walkway is a 1500ft long nature education and interpretation facility highlighting bear poaching and other threats and conservation challenges facing sloth bears in India. The route is rich with educational signage, leading to a platform elevated on 13ft high stone pillars level with the tree line, so that the bears can be observed without disturbance.
Billboards along the walkway also highlight the eight species of bears found in the world and their geographical distribution, as well as describing and depicting the other endangered wildlife present in Uttar Pradesh forests.
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Chambal – Sujoy Bannerjee, IFS said “By establishing the Agra Bear Rescue Facility, Wildlife SOS and its partners brought an end to the illegal practice of bear dancing for which sloth bear cubs were poached in Uttar Pradesh and other states. The UP Forest Department subsequently asked Wildlife
Wildlife SOS Chairperson, Kartick Satyanarayan said “Our efforts to protect and conserve sloth bears in the wild combines tackling the poaching of bears for gall bladder used for Chinese Traditional Medicine and also poaching of bear cubs for use as dancing bears as well as for bear baiting in Pakistan. Our efforts have been successful thanks to the support and cooperation of the UP Forest Department and the police.SOS to establish an education facility to assist with conservation education and public awareness-raising and the walkway will be an extremely valuable tool to sensitise our people to bear conservation in India.”
“The creation of this educational walkway is just the beginning. We still require a great deal of infrastructure and development to make it a richer and more interactive experience which leads people
on beyond the issue of bears to larger issues of conservation of forests and ecosystems. We have ambitious plans and will be collaborating with various international organisations on the design of interactive educational material for school children.”
IAR Chief Executive Alan Knight added: “Public awareness-raising and education are vital for the protection of bears and other endangered wildlife in India. The walkway is an excellent way of introducing an educational element into the sanctuary: it literally leads visitors along a path of discovery in the midst of some of the wonderful wildlife they are learning about.”
The Agra Bear Rescue Facility, established in 1999 by Wildlife SOS in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, is the first and largest rehabilitation centre in the world for sloth bears. The centre was set up to support bear conservation by ending the illegal and barbaric practice of dancing bears in India. Following the example of the Agra centre, Wildlife SOS collaborated with state Forest Departments of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal to set up similar but smaller facilities in Bangalore, Bhopal and Purulia where 600 rescued bears have been rehabilitated.
ABRF is run by Wildlife SOS with support from International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Australia. Wildlife SOS also runs an anti-poaching unit called Forestwatch that targets wildlife criminals through networking with informers and surveillance techniques. More than 60 bear cubs have been rescued through anti-poaching operations across India.