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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR aims to help blind bears see in the New Year

Having played a leading role last year in ending the dancing bear trade in India, IAR is now planning to restore the sight of the blind bears that were among the hundreds we rescued.

International Animal Rescue worked with our Indian partners Wildlife SOS and the Australian group Free the Bears to rescue more than 600 dancing bears from all over India and rehabilitate them in facilities in India where they are given expert care and a home for life.

There are over 40 blind bears at our sanctuaries in Agra and BannerghattaDancing bears in India endured terrible cruelty and neglect during their lives on the streets. They were beaten and starved, had their teeth knocked out with an iron bar and their claws cut down to the quick to render them defenceless and easier to handle. Worst of all, a red hot needle was pushed up through the bear's nose and forced out through the top of its snout. Then a coarse rope was threaded through the open wound. The bear spent its life on the end of the rope, forced to submit to its handler and perform for tourists to escape the agonising pain in its nose at every jerk on the rope.

Nearly 40 of the rescued bears in the sanctuaries in India are blind or partially sighted. Some have lost their sight as a result of malnutrition, others were blinded after deliberate brutal blows to the head. Although now free from pain and fear, many of these bears remain traumatised and isolated by their lack of vision. They are unable to investigate and explore the free-ranging forest at the sanctuaries so are kept together in smaller enclosures where the boundaries and landmarks are familiar to them and they feel secure.

Like all the rescued bears, they are provided with objects of environmental enrichment such as honey logs (hollow logs smeared on the inside with honey) and wobble trees (wooden poles with a basket filled with fruit at the top that the bears shake to dislodge the tasty treats inside.) But these treats and toys can never compensate for the bears' lack of sight and are only moderately effective at amusing and stimulating them.

Veterinary Surgeon Dr Claudia HartleyNow, thanks to Opthalmic Veterinary Surgeon Dr Claudia Hartley who has already successfully performed eye operations on blind bears in China, these damaged bears could have their lives transformed. Claudia has gathered a small veterinary team who are donating their time to travel to India and operate on any blind bears that are considered suitable for treatment. The surgery is often complex and only some of the bears will benefit from it. But for those that are suitable, there is a real chance of restoring their sight and giving them a chance to live a happier and more fulfilling life.

Alan Knight, IAR's Chief Executive, said: "I am so thrilled that Dr Hartley is willing to assist us in this way. I can't thank her enough but I know her real reward will be seeing one of the blind bears open its eyes after surgery and discover that he can see again. What a wonderful gift to be able to help these animals. Bears that have been locked in their own solitary existence will discover that there is a whole world out there and now they can be part of it.

Plans are being put in place for the trip early in the New Year and IAR and Dr Hartley are endeavouring to borrow as much of the expensive equipment as possible to keep costs down. An appeal has also been sent to IAR's supporters asking them for help with the cost of the trip as a special Christmas gift for the blind bears.

» Support IAR's Christmas appeal to help blind bears see in the New Year