This past February, I was visiting Sloth Bears at a sanctuary, for my fourth volunteer trip there! Elephants and Sloth Bears are the residents at this sanctuary . Injured animals, of all types or victims of Human-Wildlife conflicts are also rescued.
The Kalandar people in Uttar Pradesh and other areas of India, Nepal and Pakistan, for generations, poached these Bears, from the wild. The mother was killed and the poachers stole the babies. Poaching of Bears, in India, has been illegal since 1972 (Wildlife Act). But, it sometimes still occurs.
A rope, which had been inserted, through the nostril and top of the snout of the Bear is how the Bears could be controlled. A burnt poker was used to burn a hole, which this rope passed through. In some cases, the Optical nerve was burnt, which caused the Bear to be blinded.
This is how the Bears were made to “dance”.
At WSOS, near Agra, there are 170 Sloth Bears. I have had the opportunity to spend a bit of time learning about them and observing them. These wonderful Bears were rescued from a life of cruelty and are now safe at WSOS. This Sloth Bear sanctuary in India keeps them safe and cared for after many years of cruelty.
WSOS gave seed money to the Kalandar people to begin new businesses, including various kinds of shops. Some of the men are now also Bear Keepers at WSOS! Village women were taught craft skills. The children have been sent to school, by monies raised, by the sanctuary. In exchange for the financial support, the Kalandars will never again “own” or be involved with the cruel business of Dancing Bears.
To learn more about the work done by WSOS visit their website: wildlifesos.org
Some of the Bears sway from side to side. This is a clear sign of stress and remembered behaviour, from the performance training they endured. Some are blind and others are untrusting of humans. Trained veterinarians are on site to treat all the Bears.
We did a variety of jobs, as volunteers, at the sanctuary. Some were daily, others were just for one day. They included: cleaning ponds, painting enclosure grates, bringing porridge pots from cook area; dividing food into plates, cleaning and sanitizing plates after the Bears ate, cleaning and sanitizing dens and raking and filling holes that bears had dug in their enclosures.