British dentist gives rescued bears something to chew on
On 20 November one of IAR's trustees is taking time out from his dental practice in Chichester to fly to India and perform pioneering surgery on the rescued dancing bears. Paul Cassar and Vet Lisa Milella are both volunteering their time to carry out root canal treatment on the bears. They will also be training Indian vets at the sanctuary to treat other bears with similar problems in future.
It was discovered only recently that some of the bears at the rescue centre were suffering from deep cavities where their teeth had been broken. Dancing bears in India have their teeth broken off with a hammer when they are only young cubs to make them easier to control and protect their handlers from being bitten. The remaining roots become inflamed and infected, causing intense pain, but are left untreated by the Kalandar nomads who use the bears to beg money from tourists.
Alan Knight, CEO of IAR, was at the centre when the cavities in the bears’ mouths were first discovered. He says: "We had rescued two dancing bears from really grim conditions at a zoo near Goa. After a period of recovery at the sanctuary, we anaesthetised them to remove the rings from the wounds in their noses. While the bears were still under the anaesthetic we examined their mouths and saw the extent of the damage caused by breaking their teeth off at the gum level. We all know what agony toothache can be - these bears must have been in terrible pain, not only from the wounds in their noses, but also from the mutilation in their mouths."
Alan Knight enlisted the help of Paul Cassar who has gone to great lengths to research how best to treat the bears and to acquire the specialist tools for the job. He explains: "I've had to learn a whole new set of skills to prepare for the surgery on the bears, and I’ve been practising by operating on the mouths of dogs like bull mastiffs which have the closest canine equivalent to the mouth of a sloth bear.
I’ve also managed to get hold of essential veterinary dental equipment which we have sent over in advance. As an IAR trustee, I'm keenly interested in the charity's work, and I’m delighted at this unique opportunity to really make a difference to the bears by using my own professional skills and experience."
Paul, Lisa and Alan will be leaving for India on 20 November and returning to the UK on 27 November.