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Poachers beware: new skills for bear guardians

Jan 12, 2009

In the wild, sloth bears can express their instinctive behaviours and interact naturally

A January training course has formed part of a package of measures to protect bear cubs from poachers in India’s Bihar region. WSPA and member society Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) have given forest guards the skills they need to shield sloth bears from lifetimes of distress as ‘dancing’ bears.

Dancing bears live uncomfortable, unnatural lives, blighted by illness and removed from their wild environment. Approximately 150 bears are on the streets of India performing for their owners.

But thanks to this training, expertise in protecting bears and keeping them safe in their natural environment is now both deeper and wider in Bihar.

Creating wildlife detectives

Nearly 150 of the Bihar Forest Department’s field staff, including forest guards and range officers working in protected areas, attended a first training course in 2007. January’s refresher course saw 50 new faces join them.

The two-day course, run by WTI’s Van Rakshak Project and funded by WSPA supporters, covered topics including:

  • the importance of wildlife
  • Indian wildlife laws
  • an overview of the country’s wildlife crime scenario, focusing on sloth bears.

Participants also received training in field crafts, enabling them to identify indirect evidence of animals (such as droppings and prints), patrol more effectively and learn crime investigation and prevention techniques.

Necessary skills to save bears

Frontline forest department staff were able to study the wildlife crime situation in their state

Dr Rakesh Kumar Singh, WTI’s Training Coordinator, explains the need for the course: "Most field staff do not have access to information about developments in wildlife scenarios and the law; the training we organized in May 2007 was perhaps the first focused and intensive course for them.

“In the refresher training we updated their understanding, going a notch higher in terms of the information imparted."

Every animal matters

WSPA and WTI’s Sloth Bear Conservation and Welfare Project is a holistic program that seeks to protect every bear it possibly can.

Throughout 2009, the joint project will concentrate on:

  • undercover operations against poachers and wildlife traders
  • campaigning against bear poaching
  • running the successful alternative livelihood program, which helps  Kalandars – the people who own dancing bears – who have voluntarily given their bears to the Forest Department find another way to support their families.

In the Bihar region, six Kalandars have now been given funds and ongoing assistance to set up and make a success of livelihoods that don’t involve animal cruelty. Read Tamanna’s story >>

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A dancing bear with pierced muzzle, India