Good News! India's last 'dancing' bear set free
RAJU the bear will never have to smoke cigarettes or dance on his
hind legs under the hot sun again thanks to a multinational project to
save an endangered species and end a cruel centuries-old tradition in
Raju was the last endangered sloth bear that had to work for a
living, but who now can roam free at the Bannerghatta bear sanctuary on
the outskirts of the southern city of Bangalore.
The bear's freedom is the outcome of lengthy efforts by animal rescue
organisations and the Government that have taken the "dancing" bears off
India's streets, where the animals were once as ubiquitous as snake
charmers and their cobras.
"This is the very last bear that has been rescued from the roads of
India, the actual last one and that is the end of the trade," Mary
Hutton, Australia-based chairperson and founder of Free the Bears Fund,
Sloth bears are protected under the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species, but they often entertained crowds by playing
imaginary guitars, smoking cigarettes and dancing to the pounding of
drums, providing an income for their handlers.
The Bannerghatta bear rescue centre is one of the four that have been
set up by India-based Wildlife SOS, Free the Bears Fund from Australia,
Britain's International Animal Rescue and One Voice Association from
The animal welfare groups devised a holistic approach that involved
setting up sanctuaries for the freed bears and giving rehabilitation
packages for their handlers so that they have an incentive to give up
Raje Saab, Raju's handler, said he was looking forward to starting a
new job with the money he has been given.
"I am happy that it is going to stay here, it will be looked after
properly and will get proper food and care," said Saab of his bear,
adding that he would probably start a small business with the 50,000
rupees ($1069) given to him.
Once inside the sanctuary, the bears get special veterinary care to
heal their multiple wounds and are quarantined for about 90 days before
being allowed to socialise.
They are fed healthy food and gradually adjust to living in their
large, forested enclosure, although they can never be returned to the
wild because many lack basic survival techniques, as well as teeth and
Activists say rampant poaching by an ancient tribe of gypsies known
as Kalandars, who used the animals for their shows, had brought the
sloth bears to the verge of extinction.
They say the Kalandars used to poach sloth bear cubs and then force
them into submission by wrenching out their teeth and forcing a needle
through their muzzle.
Wildlife SOS co-founder Geeta Seshmani said the Kalandars used to
train the bears by putting them in a pan over a fire. They often
castrated the bears to make them less aggressive.
As a result, many bears died, prompting more poaching, she said, and
poaching still remains a pertinent threat.
"The most challenging part before us is to get the bears to be looked
after at these sanctuaries," Seshmani said.
"Our anti-poaching unit works very hard and, because of the demand
from South East Asia, there will always be demand for the bear cubs,"
she said, referring to countries were bear body parts are believed to
have medicinal properties.
"There is still bear-bone soup and there is cold-blooded trade in
countries outside India. And it will be our task to ensure that our cubs
are not stolen from our forests and our wild bears are not stolen from