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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

IAR marks 10th Anniversary of Indian Dancing Bear Rescue Project with House of Lords Reception hosted by Baroness Smith of Basildon

A reception at the House of Lords on 14 November will mark the 10th anniversary of a project that ended the cruel practice of dancing bears in India. The event is being hosted by Rt Hon Baroness Smith of Basildon who has been a supporter of numerous animal welfare causes during her career.

The first dancing bears were surrendered by their handlers on Christmas Eve 2002. This historic event marked the beginning of a campaign that was to end the suffering of more than 600 sloth bears and provide them with a safe haven for the rest of their lives. The rescued bears live in three sanctuaries in India funded by International Animal Rescue (IAR) and managed by Indian charity Wildlife SOS (WSOS).

One of the hundreds of bears rescued by IAR and WSOS from the dancing bear industryCo-Founders Geeta Seshamani and Kartick Satyanarayan will be giving a presentation at the reception about the bears’ journey from a life of pain and fear to one of peace and contentment.

In December 2009 the charities celebrated the historic rescue of Raju, the last dancing bear in India, an event that was witnessed by Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue.  At the time he said: “In all my years in animal welfare I have never been part of such a resounding success story. To transform the lives of hundreds of captive bears is amazing - but to put an end to this cruelty once and for all is nothing short of momentous.”

Since then, the two charities have worked hard to ensure the bears are kept happy and healthy. Raising sufficient funds to feed the hundreds of hungry mouths presents a huge and constant challenge. “I can’t deny I’ve had my share of sleepless nights worrying about meeting the costs of this project,” says Knight, “Thankfully, up until now the generosity of our supporters has seen us through – and I hope it will continue to do so.

“We’ve pledged to provide care for the bears for the rest of their lives – after all they’ve suffered it’s the least we can do.  I’m hoping the special guests at our reception will be so moved by what they see and hear that they will be equally keen to help us meet our commitment.”

Safe and well in one of our two Indian sanctuaries

As well as caring for the rescued bears, Wildlife SOS works to combat the threats posed by the illegal wildlife trade to the survival of sloth bears in the wild. With additional support from French charity One Voice, Wildlife SOS maintains a nationwide network of investigators and informers known as Forest Watch which works alongside the police and forestry department on anti-poaching operations.

Cubs rescued from poachers or wildlife traffickers are taken into one of the three sanctuaries and given expert veterinary treatment and care to help them survive. Some sadly die from the trauma of being taken from their mothers at only a few weeks old but others go on to lead healthy, happy lives in the secure forest environment.

International Animal Rescue has chosen bear cub poaching as the subject of its Christmas supporter appeal to highlight the threats to bears in India at this time of year from the illegal trade in wildlife and animal parts.

Alan Knight concludes: “We’re all very excited about the reception next week which will be a time for celebration at what we’ve achieved, but also an opportunity to convey to some of our most generous donors how vital their support is if we are to continue keeping the rescued bears in India safe and well.”

The Dancing Bear Rescue project owes its success at least in part to the Kalandar Rehabilitation Scheme which provides retraining and funding for the bears’ handlers – known as Kalandar tribals - to help them set up in new lines of work and continue providing for their families. Hundreds of Kalandar families have benefitted from the scheme and as a result nearly 1000 children are receiving an education. The retraining package has also enabled women to learn skills such as sewing and weaving and gain a new independence and sense of empowerment.