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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Bondla bears airlifted to safety

A life of misery at Bondla ZooTwo endangered sloth bears kept in appalling conditions in a zoo in India have been rescued and flown to safety. The bears, which had been used illegally as dancing bears, suffered more physically and psychologically in Bondla zoo than while they were "dancing" on the streets to entertain tourists.

The two bears – a male of three years and a five year old female - were kept in tiny cages and tied permanently to the bars by a rope from a brass ring through their noses. They were unable to move around and were restricted to standing or sitting, staring blankly through the bars. One bear in particular seemed in a highly traumatised and depressed state.

Alan Knight, Chief Executive of IAR, saw the bears in Bondla during a recent visit to India and was so appalled that he took immediate steps to rescue them. He sought agreement from the Indian authorities to fly them to an IAR-funded sanctuary in Agra, which is managed by the Indian charity Wildlife SOS. He recalls: "It was one of the worst cases of animal suffering I have ever come across. In my view the bears were worse off in the zoo than when they were on the streets being beaten and forced to "dance" by their owners. However, a swift decision by the Goa Forest Department and approval from the Indian Central Zoo Authority, has allowed us to end their misery".

A vet and bear handler from Wildlife SOS flew down several days in advance to prepare the bears for the 17 hour journey. Special travel crates were purpose-built to transport them. The District Forest Officer for the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in which the Agra sanctuary is located also flew down to monitor the relocation. The entire rescue operation was filmed by IAR founder John Hicks, who lives in Goa.

Jo looks out at freedom from inside her comfortable quarantine denOn arrival at the sanctuary, the two bears were put together into a quarantine pen, given warm milk to drink, and then left sleeping on a soft bed of straw.

Says Alan Knight: "Indian dancing bears have had their teeth knocked out and their claws removed in order to make them easier to handle. They could never fend for themselves in the wild - hence the need to set up proper sanctuaries in India to care for them. Without such facilities, other confiscated bears are in danger of suffering the same fate as the Bondla bears and languishing in terrible conditions in zoos. We are delighted at the successful rescue of these bears. Tragically there are still hundreds of dancing bears on the streets of India, and it is only with the continued support of the British public that we can bring their suffering to an end. IAR has pledged to rescue 50 dancing bears by the New Year, and we still need to raise funds if we are to make that goal. Anyone thinking of supporting our campaign to free the bears can rest assured that their money is really making a difference to the lives of these long-suffering animals."

During the rescue operation John Hicks forged strong links with local officials in Goa: they have now invited him back to Bondla to advise on how to improve conditions for the many other animals in the ’wildlife reserve.’ These include another sloth bear living in a pit, as well as elephants, coyotes and reptiles. John will be taking immediate steps to introduce environmental enrichment into the enclosures to provide some stimulation for the captive animals.