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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Animal charities set to defy critics and make history in India

By stamping out the dancing bear trade.

Alan Knight visits a village which is benefiting from the Kalandar rehabilitation programmeIn defiance of critics who claimed the problem was too big for them to solve, two animal rescue charities look set to make history by ending the tradition of ‘dancing’ bears in India. With backing from the Indian government, International Animal Rescue (IAR) from the UK and Wildlife SOS of India (WSOS) are confident they can eradicate the cruel practice by 2010.

IAR and WSOS have rescued an amazing 300 bears from the streets in the last four years and rehabilitated them in sanctuaries in the north and south of India. They have just removed the last bears from the tourist routes around Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal, and the historic city of Fatehpur Sikri. This represents a huge milestone in the campaign to end the practice for good.

The two charities have even received a special award from the Indian government for their achievement. Forest Minister Mr Virendra Singh said "The Indian government is proud to be working with a team of people who really do deliver on their promises. Together we have found a solution to the problem of the illegal dancing bear trade that not only relieves animal suffering, it also provides a bright future for the Kalandar nomads who traditionally have relied on ‘dancing’ bears to support their families. This is a real win-win situation"¹

Kartick, Alan and the District Forestry Officer planting a tree on the new land in AgraAlan Knight, CEO of International Animal Rescue, says: "I know some people thought we were too small to take on a challenge of this size. But we’re very ’hands on’, and because we’re small we don’t get bogged down in bureaucracy - we’re able to make quick decisions and seize opportunities when they arise. I’m not aware of any other group in the world that has been as successful as us in rescuing and rehabilitating bears - particularly in such a short space of time. If we have to blow our own trumpet to raise awareness of the project and encourage people to support it, then now’s the time to do it.

"We now have the experience, the expertise and the infrastructure to step up the campaign and rescue more and more bears. A survey to be published shortly has shown that there are still about 600 dancing bears in India.² We have just signed and sealed a deal on a huge new area of land in Agra to expand the sanctuary which means we have everything in place to banish bears from the streets within the next five years."

International Animal Rescue is the sole UK funder of two sanctuaries in Agra, near the Taj Mahal and in Bannerghatta near Bangalore. Both are managed by Wildlife SOS and they have been developed as centres of excellence for the rehabilitation of endangered sloth bears. Pioneering dental work has been carried out on the rescued bears which have had their teeth broken off with hammers by their handlers to make them easier to control. During a recent trip the team even fitted a gold crown on one bear to save its tooth.

TV vet Scott Miller and Kartick from Wildlife SOS fit the radio collarThe charities are also testing a radio collar for use on a wild female bear that took up residence in an empty house where she gave birth to two cubs. By using the collar to track her it will be possible to prevent her from venturing too close to human settlements in future and save her from being shot by frightened villagers.

International Animal Rescue has recruited celebrities Bill Bailey and Jo Brand as patrons to raise the profile of their work. At the end of September TV vet Scott Miller from This Morning television also visited the sanctuaries and took part in the dental work and the fitting of the radio collar.

1. Under the rescue scheme every Kalandar who surrenders his bear receives 50,000 rupees (£625) to start up a business. Successes so far include a bicycle repair shop, rickshaw drivers, carpet weaving and several small shops. Several of the Kalandars even work at the Agra sanctuary preparing the food for the animals. In return the Kalandar signs a legally binding contract promising not to get another bear.2. Survey of dancing bears in India. Geeta Seshamani and Kartick Satyanarayan,Wildlife SOS.

For further information, stills and footage, contact: Lis Key, International Animal Rescue Tel: +44 1825 767688 / +44 7957 824379