WSPA celebrates protection of bears in India

An ex-dancing sloth bear rests inside a cement pipe at a dancing bear sanctuary in Bilaspur, India.

An ex-dancing sloth bear rests inside a cement pipe at a dancing bear sanctuary in Bilaspur, India.

India has launched a world-class national action plan to help prevent cruelty to bears and protect vulnerable populations in the wild. During the launch of the National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan (NBCWAP), The Minister for Environment and Forests, The Hon. Jayanti Natrajan also thanked WSPA for its contribution to reducing bear dancing in India. The strategy will help protect bear populations in the 26 states where they are found in the wild and tackle the illegal trade in bear body parts and bear cubs, reducing human-bear conflicts, retaliatory bear killings, and habitat loss. It will also prevent the re-emergence of the brutal practice of bear dancing. With the plan underway, WSPA is proud to announce the completion of 17 years of bear welfare work in India and the successful closure of our alternative livelihoods programme with partners the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). This project has empowered Kalandars – the traditional dancing bear owners – to take on new careers of their choice, providing stable incomes for their families while releasing their bears from lives of misery. With five sons and four daughters, Sher Ali struggled to support his large family on the minimal wage he earned from performing with his bear. Moving from village to village meant his children could not attend school. After handing over his bear, Sher purchased four acres of land with our support. He now raises two crops every year, his children attend classes and he says he no longer wants to keep bears or has any desire to perform with them.

The project has had a 100 per cent success rate, with none of the final 50 Kalandars – some of the last to surrender their bears and most resistant to changing their livelihoods – returning to the cruel practice. Three quarters of participants continue to earn above average wages after 12 months in their alternate careers.

Before the end of bear dancing, over a hundred bear cubs were poached from the wild every year. Cubs had their teeth knocked out and their noses pierced with hot needles. Nose rings were used to train the bears to dance with their owners who would move from village to village performing for income.

WSPA has also worked with WTI to develop and deliver anti-poaching and surveillance training to over 400 Government forestry staff and volunteers to prevent bears from being taken from the wild. The Government will maintain and expand this training as part of the new NBCWAP. In addition, the NBCWAP will provide a valuable framework for the ongoing work that is needed to ensure bears are protected in India.

Rescued dancing bears are being cared for in life long care centres managed by Wildlife SOS, International Animal Rescue, and Free the Bears in partnership with the Indian Government. These centres provide a safe home for 395 bears, receiving world-class veterinary care and husbandry as they recover from the many physical and psychological scars left after their lives of torture as dancing bears. These sanctuaries are part of a broader programme of work by Wildlife SOS that has helped to end bear dancing in India.

Speaking at the International Conference on Bear Research & Management (IBA) in New Delhi, WSPA CEO Mike Baker said it was a day of celebration for all those who have worked to protect bears in India: “Bears here in India have finally been recognized as the magnificent creatures they are. No longer are they viewed as commodities and treated cruelly for entertainment. They are truly protected in their natural environment, taking their rightful place alongside other treasured wild animals such as tigers and elephants.”

Gajender Sharma, Country Director, WSPA India, added: “Working with WTI we have increased awareness of animal welfare issues in remote communities and empowered Kalandars to move into jobs that do not inflict cruelty on animals. The lives of the bears have been transformed forever and so too have the lives of the Kalandars and their families.”

Watch our videos about our successful project.

With our programme to protect bears in India complete, we will be expanding our campaign for wider animal protection . Find out more.