In the wild, bears are rather dangerous creatures. They are known for their large claws that can shred through tree trunks, or unwelcome predators, and their sharp, menacing teeth can instill fear in even the most courageous human. However, this intimidating persona (sadly) does not exempt these animals from becoming the victims of many human activities.
Some bear species are endangered by Traditional Medicine, targeted for their paws or bile, while more still, fall prey to the entertainment industry. You have probably seen bears appear in zoos, or the circus, but you might be unfamiliar with the concept of a “dancing bear.”
The History of the Dancing Bear
Bears used as dancing bears were typically sloth bears, a species that has been classified as vulnerable by IUCN. There are only around 20,000 sloth bears currently documented in the wild. Most often sloth bears were poached from the wild at a young age and sold into the dancing bear trade. From there they would be purchased by a “trainer” who will teach them to dance for a profit. To do so, bears were “conditioned,” a process that involves removing the bear’s canine teeth without anesthesia. Bears were also subjected to having their snout pierced with a hot metal rod. A rope would then be inserted into the piercing as a way to control the bear while it danced. This process is as excruciating and horrid as it sounds.
There are a number of organizations that have made it their top priority to rescue bears who formerly served as dancing bears. One of which is International Animal Rescue (IAR), an organization that works to combat poaching of the sloth bear and to collaborate with sanctuaries, such as Wildlife SOS, to rehabilitate the animals.
Three Bears Rescued From the Grips of Poachers
Back in December of 2013, Wildlife SOS was able to apprehend three sloth bears from poachers with the help of local police and the forestry department. The bears were eventually confiscated from poachers who had been harboring the bears in Nepal, waiting until they had grown large enough for sale. When the bears were old enough to be sold, the poachers brought them into India, hoping to sell the bears to the Kalandar community who traditionally used bears for dancing.
However, given that this community has done away with the tradition, they were unwilling to purchase the animals and the poachers paraded the bears back to Nepal, where upon they were apprehended by authorities. It is believed that had authorities not intervened, the bears would have been sold to make bear paw soup.
After being rescued by Wildlife SOS and local authorities, the bears were moved to Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park in Ranchi for immediate care. These bears, named Bintha, Bean, and Bobby have since been moved to the Wildlife SOS sanctuary where they are free to lead happy lives in the company of the sanctuary’s other bears. Here is how the bears have progressed since their arrival at the sanctuary.
Bean was only three-years-old when he was rescued from poachers. Despite his young age, Bean had already known a whole-life’s worth of pain. Bean had a rope pierced through his nose and his canines had been forcibly removed. Luckily, veterinarians were able to remove the rope from his nose and treat the little bear for pain.
After a period of quarantine, Bean was given a clean bill of health and allowed to move into the socialization pen with the other bears at the sanctuary. This little bear is described as “a simple bear” who keeps himself occupied digging for termites or playing with the bells in the enclosure. Bean reportedly loves his caretaker and can be spotted playing with him at any given hour of the day – that is when he’s not munching on watermelon and porridge! Bean has also developed a close relationship with Bintha bear and they love to play wrestle and chase one another.
Bintha was only 11-months-old when she was rescued by the Wildlife SOS team. Like Bean, her nose had been pierced and harnessed with a rope that when pulled tight by her owner prevented the wound from healing. This wound has since healed, although her little snout still bears the scars.
She weighed very little when she first arrived at the Agra-based facility, but has since gained a healthy appetite for fruit – her favorites include pomegranate and watermelon. Her caretakers describe her as a “playful,” even “mischievous” bear who is “always up for shenanigans.”
With Bean by her side, Bintha has, “acquired new skills of breaking enrichments,bringing down the wobble basket and undoing the ropes holding the climbing frames in place.” Her caretaker continues, “She is always determined to bring down the enrichment as quickly as possible.”
Bobby bear is the more reserved of the three, where Bintha and Bean are more happy-go-lucky in nature, Bobby is very selective about the friends he keeps. Sanctuary caretakers had to bribe Bobby with his favorite food – dates – to gain his favor. Bobby has made one great friend at the sanctuary, Akki, another male sloth bear and the two are near inseparable.
During the hot summer months Bobby and Akki like to climb trees and take naps. You’ll notice Bobby’s long claws which make climbing much easier for a curious bear. Once Bobby has lived in the socialization enclosure long enough to learn the basics of being a wild sloth bear, he will be given access to the free-roaming forest area where he can live like a wild bear would, except with the added security of the Wildlife SOS team.
Hope for Other Bears
Bobby, Bintha, and Bean are just three of the bears who have been rescued thanks to the collaborative efforts of IAR and Wildlife SOS. Both groups are dedicated to seeing that the dancing bear becomes a forgotten tradition and will continue to combat poaching of the vulnerable sloth bear species.
To learn more about IAR, check out their website here. To keep up to date on the progress of Bintha, Bean, and Bobby, be sure to follow the Wildlife SOS blog. You can help make sure that these three bears are kept in their favorite fruits and toys by signing up to sponsor a bear through Wildlife SOS, for more information click here.
All images courtesy of Wildlife SOS