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International Animal Rescue Saving animals from suffering around the world

Maoist threats lead to emergency bear evacuation

The bears were transported on three trucksSerious threats from Maoist insurgency groups in India have led to the emergency evacuation of rescued dancing bears and staff from a bear rescue centre in West Bengal.

The facility, located in Purulia district, was established by Indian charity Wildlife SOS in collaboration with the West Bengal Government and Forest Department with support from International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Fund, Australia. It had been home to the bears ever since they had been rescued from their miserable lives on the streets of India.

"When the West Bengal Forest Department and the Rescue Centre received the threats from the Maoist insurgency groups to evacuate all staff from the forest area, we were seriously concerned. We realised that they meant business and an emergency evacuation was of the utmost urgency" said Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder of Wildlife SOS.

Arriving at the Bannerghatta bear rescue centre"The Maoist groups pinned up a poster with the words "Leave the forest if you wish to remain safe." We immediately appealed to the Zoo Authority of Karnataka, the West Bengal Government and the Central Zoo Authority of the Government of India to facilitate the safe evacuation from the centre in the interests of the safety of people and animals," said Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue.

This was a grave concern since several wild animals, birds and snakes had been burnt alive in a Maoist attack in December 2009 in Jhargram Zoo in West Bengal.

The Bannerghatta Biological Park, Karnataka Forest Department, Zoo Authority of Karnataka, Central Zoo Authority and Wildlife SOS facilitated the safe evacuation of the 22 bears -12 males and 10 females. We are extremely grateful to Bannerghatta for making it possible for us to rescue these animals from a critically dangerous situation" Kartick Satyanarayan added.

The bears were evacuated with the help of three large trucks and a team of about 12 trained staff and a veterinarian travelled with the bears to ensure their safety and wellbeing. The bears were fed and monitored at regular intervals on the long journey from West Bengal to Bannerghatta, Bangalore.

Dr Arun overseeing the unloading of the bears"The bears have now been thoroughly checked by the Veterinary Officers at the rescue centre and have been found to be in good health. They are being kept in the quarantine area for observation and monitoring and will be released in their designated enclosures after the necessary veterinary and health screening" said Dr Arun A Sha, Veterinary Director of Wildlife SOS.

Editor's notes

Dancing bears in India are sloth bears that have been poached from the wild as tiny cubs, often by killing their mother. Sloth bears are listed on Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and all international trade in them is prohibited. As well as being poached for the dancing bear trade, bear parts are thought to have healing properties and bears are highly prized for use in traditional medicines.

A sloth bear is trained with terrible cruelty to become a dancing bear. Its claws are ripped out and its teeth broken off with an iron bar to make it easier to control. It is fed on cheap alcohol to subdue it. Worst of all, a red hot poker is pushed up through the bear's nose and out through the top of its snout. A rope is threaded through the open wound. When the handler jerks the rope upwards, the bear stands on its hind legs to escape the pain. As a cub the bear is also forced to stand on hot coals and soon learns to hop from one foot to another, making it look as though it is dancing.

Once rescued and taken into a sanctuary, former dancing bears receive specialised veterinary care, enjoy a healthy diet, and live with companions in free-ranging, forest enclosures. Over time they become healthier and happier. However, rescued bears are not able to be returned to the wild, as they have become accustomed to, and reliant on, humans.

Dancing bears used to be a common sight in tourist areas of India, notably along the highway between Delhi and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. The last dancing bear in India was rescued in December 2009 and now lives happily at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre.