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Dancing bears: prevention not cure

Apr 9, 2009

WSPA's strategy aims to see bear cub confiscations become a thing of the past

Having trained over 800 forest department staff in anti-poaching methods, WSPA is focusing on crime-prevention and awareness in our efforts to end bear dancing. From finding and removing captive cubs from miserable lives as dancing bears, we have moved to ensuring they never leave the forest.

WSPA, our partners the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and India’s forest departments all believe prevention is better than cure.

While seizing captive cubs has been successful – the number of dancing bears performing in India has dropped from 400 to approximately 150 since 2005 – anti-poaching training helps prevent bears ever being captured.

Alongside training in the prevention of wildlife crime, WSPA has provided an additional 375 anti-poaching personnel with equipment including flashlights and waterproofs.

Running crime prevention strategies simultaneously with awareness campaigns has been successful in the eastern states of Orissa and Jharkhand, traditionally a major source of poached cubs, and there has been no recent known case of a bear cub being sold from there.

This has enabled WSPA to focus on a second crucial area of concern.

Keeping bears wild

WSPA and WTI are concentrating on the corridor stretching up from the eastern state of Orissa through Jharkhand and Bihar to the Nepalese border. These are the last few areas where bears are being killed and their young taken to perform as dancing bears.

In these states WSPA and WTI are working with the forest department to employ appropriate solutions to stamp out persistent poaching.

Innovative awareness campaigns, using traditional theater, are also important to our approach – we need public support to prevent a new generation of dancing bears.

Bear aware!

Sambalpur, India: traditional theatre and dance events are helping people better understand bears

Recent surveys show that the vast majority of people living near the corridor are not involved in stealing or trading cubs are aware it is illegal. Yet only a third know that it is happening on their doorstep.

In response, the first WSPA/WTI dancing bear awareness events have been held in villages near areas known for poaching. Plays, posters and workshops describe how bears suffer in captivity.

They also dispel common misconceptions about wild bear behavior, including the idea that they seek conflict with humans. Improving people’s tolerance for living side by side with wildlife makes poaching less acceptable.

Independent surveys will assess how far bear welfare awareness has grown in these villages.

WTI has asked local people to report signs of poaching to the forest authorities. In doing so, they can protect bears from cruelty and prevent illegal activity in their area.

Holistic approach

In addition to anti-poaching and awareness work, WSPA/WTI’s alternative livelihood project provides kalandars (traditional dancing bear owners) with alternative forms of income, such as taxis.

They are offered support in their new endeavors to ensure they do not return to livelihoods based on cruelty.

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A sloth bear kept for dancing, India

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