IAR is part of international coalition honoured for ending trade in dancing bears in India
A coalition of NGOs from the UK, India and Australia has been honoured at an International Conference on bear conservation for bringing an end to the dancing bear trade in India.
The Hon Minister of the Environment and Forests presented the Freedom Award to the heads of the three charities in front of 400 conference delegates from around the world. A special stamp has also been produced to commemorate the occasion.
The coalition of International Animal Rescue in the UK, Wildlife SOS in India and Free the Bears from Australia successfully ended the dancing bear trade in India in 2009 when Raju, the last dancing bear, was surrendered by his Kalandar owner and brought into the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre near Bangalore. This was the culmination of a project that began on Christmas Eve 2002 when the Agra Bear Rescue Facility took in the first rescued bears.
The conference has today announced a National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan. The far-reaching strategy will help protect bear populations in the 26 Indian states where they are found in the wild and tackle the main issues threatening bears including illegal trade in bear body parts and bear cubs, reducing human-bear conflicts, retaliatory bear killings and habitat loss.
Alan Knight said: “We are delighted that the conference in India will bring focus on bear conservation and we hope our efforts of the last decade in partnership with Wildlife SOS and Free the Bears will set a good example of sloth bear welfare and conservation.”
Since ending the trade, the three 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, so far the generosity of our supporters has seen us through.”
As well as caring for the rescued bears, the charities work 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 body parts.
Sloth Bears (Melursis ursinus), have been exploited for centuries across India by a nomadic gypsy community called Kalandars, distributed across 13 to 14 states in India and having four distinct regional divisions. These bears are poached from the wild as cubs and used for street performances thus endangering the wild population of this species. A report by the Geeta Seshamani and Kartick Satyanarayan in 1997, reported about 1200 bears used in the trade and about 200 cubs poached annually for supply to the Kalandars.
The Wildlife Protection Act in 1972 made the possession of sloth bears illegal and punishable by law.
Today, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility is globally the largest rescue centre for sloth bears which houses about 270 rescued bears. It has grown into a centre of excellence for bear welfare with support from Uttar Pradesh Forest Dept. Four rescue centres in Agra, Bhopal, Bangalore and West Bengal are managed by Wildlife SOS with support from International Animal Rescue, Free the Bears Fund, Australia and One Voice Association, France.
The Kalandars were encouraged to hand over their dancing bears voluntarily and accept skill training and seed funds to establish themselves in alternative livelihoods.