Three bears saved in dramatic rescue from poachers in India
Three young sloth bears have been seized from poachers in a joint rescue operation by Indian charity Wildlife SOS and the local police and forest department. The bears were confiscated from the “Nats”, traditionally a community of street entertainers, who had illegally brought the bears into India. The bears have been transferred to the Agra Bear Rescue Facility in Uttar Pradesh, the world’s largest rehabilitation centre for sloth bears. The facility is run by Wildlife SOS and funded by International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Fund Australia.
The Wildlife SOS anti-poaching unit called ‘Forestwatch!’ received intelligence that the poachers were hiding in a remote forested area in the Giridih District of Jharkhand. Wildlife SOS passed on this intelligence to the relevant local authorities who provided the personnel to carry out the seizure.
It is suspected that the Nats poached the bear cubs from different parts of India then hid them in Nepal until they were large enough to sell. Then they brought them back into India to sell to the Kalandar community who traditionally used to “dance” bears. Since the Kalandars were unwilling to buy the bears, the Nats transported them to Nepal, posing as Kalandars and using them for street dancing along the way. It is suspected that the bears would have been killed and their body parts sold off to South East Asian countries for use in traditional Chinese medicine or for delicacies like bear paw soup.
Dr Rupak De, Chief Wildlife Warden, Uttar Pradesh congratulated everyone involved with the successful operation which was carried out using a convoy of six vehicles, 20 police officers, 15 forest officers and Wildlife SOS personnel.
Baiju Raj of Wildlife SOS who was present during the operation said, “The poachers were caught hiding in Giridih district with the three bears. At one point, it became very difficult for us to control the crowd and take the bears to a safe location. An unruly mob from the Nat community gathered around the poachers to protect them from the police and even tried to torch the police vehicle. It was a very hostile and threatening situation.”
The three bears, two males and one female, were moved to Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park in Ranchi for immediate treatment. After keeping them there for a three day observation period, they were then transported to the Agra facility where they are undergoing extensive treatment for their muzzle wounds.
In 2009 a coalition of Wildlife SOS, International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Fund brought an end to the trade in dancing bears in India. However, Alan Knight, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue, said: “The threat to sloth bears in India remains very real. Human encroachment into natural habitat leaves wild bears increasingly vulnerable to poachers seeking to capitalise on the thriving market for bears and bear parts in South East Asia. The work of the anti-poaching unit is proving ever more vital to the survival of endangered sloth bears in India.”