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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Flying to the aid of dancing bears in India

A team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) flies out to India on 4 November to launch the next phase of its campaign to rescue dancing bears off the streets.

Along the road from Delhi to Agra, not far from the spectacular Taj Mahal, 50 bears are made to "dance" for the entertainment of tourists. The Indian government has given IAR the go-ahead to rescue all these bears. The charity’s aim is to get them into a sanctuary in Agra, where they will be handled with loving care and given expert veterinary treatment to heal their wounds. The team hopes to rescue the first of the 50 bears during their trip.

Led by Alan Knight from East Sussex, IAR has already rescued more than 60 bears from lives of misery and suffering, and rehabilitated them in the Agra sanctuary which is managed by Indian charity Wildlife SOS. IAR has made a long-term commitment to fund the running costs of the sanctuary to guarantee the bears’ future welfare.

Says Alan Knight: "A dancing bear in India has never been treated with anything other than brute force. His teeth have been knocked out with a hammer and his claws pulled out with pliers. He has had a red hot poker pushed up through one nostril and out through his sensitive snout. A rough length of rope rubs incessantly against the open wound. He is brought up on to his hind legs by one yank on the rope - when he appears to be dancing, he is really writhing in agony.

"The dancing bear trade was made illegal in India in 1972, but until the Agra sanctuary was built there was nowhere to house confiscated bears. Now we have the facilities to care for them and give them a new life in a semi-natural environment where they can learn to be bears again. At the same time, we must redouble our efforts to raise funds to expand the sanctuary and cope with the increase in numbers. With the aid of public support, we can push ahead and clear the road from Delhi to Agra of the sight of these poor animals."

It is not only the bears that are being given a fresh start in life. IAR is also supporting a government retraining scheme to set up the bears’ owners (known as 'kalandar' gypsies) in alternative employment. This gives them an income for the future and means they won’t return to "dancing" bears for a living.