IAR buys a lot of old rope to save the bears in India
Special Report by Alan Knight, Chief Executive
For more than five years now, IAR has been working with an Indian charity called Wildlife SOS (WSOS). Initially we helped their sister charity Friendicoes Seca which, like IAR rescues and sterilises street dogs and cats and provides a refuge for all sorts of other domestic animals and wildlife. Geeta and Kartick of WSOS have always helped us steer our way through the stormy waters of dealing with the Indian Government to get the Animal Birth Control (ABC) grants that many Indian charities need to survive.
About three or four years ago Geeta and Kartick told us of their plans to build a sanctuary to rescue the dancing bears from the streets of India. This was a hugely optimistic project and, at the time , because of our commitments to our own clinic in Goa we could not become involved. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) stepped in and built the sanctuary but decided not to fund its running costs. During 2002, IAR was asked for help with these running costs and we are now part of a coalition of animal charities helping to raise the funds to run and expand the Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF). The other charities are Free the Bears (Australia) and One Voice (France).
Care for the Wild International has agreed to fund the project for one year with a donation of approx £30,000. On Christmas Eve 2002 we received the great news that the first 12 dancing bears had been rescued from a life of pain and torture and had been taken within the protective walls of the Agra Bear Rescue Facility. All of the hard work and organisation had been worth it. Our first bears had been rescued and the future looked good for them and for the many other bears still on the road.In order to make this project secure in the long term, it was proposed that an agreement with the keepers of the bears should be made.
WSOS commissioned a social impact report and came up with the novel idea of offering to pay the deposit on a three-wheeler taxi so that the Kalendar gypsies who kept the bears could be retrained and make a living from taxi driving. This would enable them to provide food for their families and it also locked them into a Government mortgage: this meant that the Government can keep a close eye on their repayments, preventing them from buying another bear. If a Kalendar does get another bear he will be arrested and could serve up to eight years in prison. The Kalendar gypsies I met were very happy with this solution and were proud to show us their new taxi.
I was very worried that the bears would be completely overwhelmed when they were set free without their nose ropes in the open spaces of the sanctuary. But I needn’t have worried., The majority of the bears ran around exploring the pre-release pens and jumping into their new pools, while a few decided to dig holes in the deep cool earth and simply chill out!
The road to recovery will be a long one. No one has ever tried to rehabilitate so many sloth bears at one time. We need to look at the needs of the bears very closely. These animals have been with humans all their lives, so simply to remove them from human interaction may well prove damaging. We would like to allow the bears to do what they wish: if they wish to be alone they should be able to be alone, and if they wish to interact with humans, this should also be made possible. The important thing is that they will decide.
Environmental enrichment is also a very important factor to consider so that we can provide a stimulating environment for the bears.
When they first enter the sanctuary the bears are given a full veterinary examination to confirm that they are not suffering from any diseases. They are treated for fleas and are wormed . Their nose ropes are then examined and if they can be safely removed without anaesthetic this is done. Some had knots tied in the rope inside their nose and cartilage had started to grow into the knots: these had to be surgically removed.
The future of the sanctuary is in the hands of our supporters. There are an estimated 1200 dancing bears on the streets of India and we can cater for around 50 of these at present. At Animal Tracks goes to print, we already have 37 bears at the ABRF. The Government of India has been very supportive and our Patron Maneka Gandhi has been instrumental in changing the laws of India to make the rehabilitation of these bears possible. Our deepest thanks go to her for taking this highly significant step towards ending the suffering of the ’dancing’ bears on the streets of India.