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I would like to thank WILDLIFE SOS INDIA to give me the agreement to publish these informations on my website. Thanks particularly to Geeta, Kartic and Kate.
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The dancing bears of India

The Qalandars a nomadic gypsy tribe of India earned a living from dancing bears and using monkeys, civet cats and many other animals for entertainment since the 13th century. Bear dancing and staging “wrestling matches” between bears became a favourite royal entertainment during the Mughal era. The Qalandars spread through thirteen states of India during which time they became well known for their “dancing bears” and the tricks they could perform and the bear was also seen as a powerful “healer” a protector of the underworld which allowed the Qalandars to hawk talismans and rings made of bear hair and sell their claws and teeth.
Once the emperors faded away as patrons the bear dancing Qalandars earned from the superstitious rural communities and from the tourists who visited the Taj Mahal and other forts and monuments both in Agra and Jaipur or at Khajuraho and in Mysore, anywhere in the big cities of India. It was a common sight to see bears being danced along the hot and dusty highways and in 1995 Geeta Seshamani and Kartick Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS moved by their plight, initiated an intensive two year research on the socio-economic status of the Qalandars and their management and training of the bears. During this time they counted over 1200 dancing bears held captive by this community.
 Although bear dancing was declared illegal by the Wildlife Act of 1972, socio economic factors made it very difficult for the government to actually enforce the law. What they also witnessed was the terrible cruelties practiced on the bear in the name of training. The Qalandars purchased the sloth bear cubs from tribal poachers at the tender age of four to six weeks and the mother bear was often killed during the poaching. At around five months a crude iron needle is heated and driven through their muzzle and a rough rope is pulled through the sensitive swollen bleeding muzzle; a hammer is used to knock out the canines and a blade to castrate the males; all without anesthesia or antibiotics. Fifty percent of the cubs die of trauma and shock.
If they survive their life of misery begins as they are tied to a stake in the ground at the end of a four foot rope and their freedom extends only thus far and the wound on the muzzle is never allowed to heal. The crude tools of fear and pain help them manage the bears. Most of the bears suffer from malnutrition and lose their eyesight, tuberculosis, leptospirosis and rabies were the other hazards they risked as they walked the roads endlessly with little rest, in the heat and cold, and with a near starvation diet because the Qalandars finds it easier to control a weak bear.
If the bears were miserable, the Qalandar families were worse off, caught in a spiral of poverty, illness and illiteracy, without water, electricity or proper housing. Their nomadic lifestyle kept them marginalized and they neither received education nor any health care and their earnings were precarious, good during the tourist seasons and very little during the rest of the year.
Wildlife SOS founders realized the need for a long term sustainable solution which would ensure the bear dancer and the bear were both taken care of: the Qalandar had to be assured of an alternative livelihood option even as the bears were rescued and taken to rescue centres. This alone could ensure sloth bears which are highly endangered could be conserved in the forests while the biggest “consumer” of the poached cubs were taught new modes of alternative livelihood.
© WildlifeSOS - India - Geeta and a sloth bear
Thus began the long journey of reclaiming dignity and a better quality of life for both the dancing bears and their Qalandar masters. Upon peaceful voluntary surrender of the bear Wildlife SOS provided ‘seed’ funds for starting a new venture such as a tea stall, grocery store or vending carts and cycle rickshaws. The Qalandars opted for a huge variety of earning opportunities from plastic recycling units to purchasing second hand tuk-tuks, vegetable and fruit juice vending carts to providing snacks from their carts along the highways. Further support was provided by training them in carpet weaving, gem polishing, embroidery and tailoring classes, mechanical apprenticeships, carpentry and polishing. Qalandar children are sent to school, provided with school books, uniforms and shoes and payment of school fees. Women have become second income earners for their families thus raising their stature in the community and earning them respect. The women receive vocational guidance and training; seed funds to begin a venture and to initiate self-help groups. This work of rehabilitating the entire community still continues and will need another decade at least of assistance to the tribal community.
© WildlifeSOS India - Geeta and a Sloth bear cub

Meanwhile in the last eight years almost 600 bears have been surrendered and have found bear havens of the four rescue centres run by Wildlife SOS where in near natural surroundings the bears learn to forage for food, enjoy nutritious meals and are given specialized treatment for malnutrition and many other ailments and dental surgery for rotting stubs of their canines, and lead lives without trauma or stress. These four rescue centres are at Agra, Bangalore, Bhopal and Purulia. Wildlife SOS has successfully collaborated and received help from the Indian government and the different state forest departments; as well as from our International partners International Animal Rescue, UK, Free the bears, Australia and One Voice France and help from the Ford Foundation. Wildlife SOS has successfully eradicated the barbaric several centuries practice of Dancing Bears in India with the help of our partners and visitors to our country need never see the sloth bear exploited for entertainment.
Over 3000 Qalandar families have received assistance, over 700 children go to school and we hope will grow up with more opportunities for a better life than their parents and over 1300 women successfully earn their livelihood and are helping to change things for other women in their community.
© WildlifeSOS India - Kartick Satyanarayan
However the ultimate mission of Wildlife SOS is the conservation and protection of the bear species in the wild. Working to keep the bears where they rightfully belong, in the jungles of India, necessitated the formation of a very strong Anti-Poaching unit which inspired the formation of “Forest Watch” in partnership with One Voice France. One Voice France in a visionary move realized that once the Qalandars stop the dancing of bears there would still be a demand from the international wildlife trade mafia for bear gall bladders, and for other body parts. Supported by One Voice over the last decade Wildlife SOS has created a powerful information gathering network which works round the clock giving information to the various authorities empowered to implement the Law. Wildlife SOS hopes one day the poaching of bear cubs and other wildlife will become a thing of the past and India’s jungles will be replenished with this beautiful, amazingly intelligent and charismatic animal, the sloth bear. The ForestWatch! Anti poaching Unit is currently also supported by Hauser Bears UK, HSI Australia and Wildlife SOS - USA"

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Creation date : 01/08/2011 : 12:02
Last update : 21/02/2012 : 19:19
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You are here :   Welcome » The protection of Sloth bears
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