Sep 21, 2011
In a dramatic rescue, a WSPA partner in India has freed a sloth bear cub from captivity as a “dancing” bear.
In a daring undercover operation, our local partner the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) managed to secure the release of the 1-year-old cub in the state of Jharkand, following a tip-off from locals just days earlier. While the rescued cub is relatively healthy, his teeth had been removed and his sensitive muzzle pierced with a ring – in order to subdue, control and teach him to “dance” – before his rescue. Unfortunately, the two men attempting to sell the poached cub managed to evade capture, taking a second bear cub with them.
WTI, an Indian NGO funded by WSPA to end bear “dancing” and its associated poaching, received information from an informer that two cubs were for sale in the Jharkand village of Pakhitola. WTI then worked with its network of informers, usually reformed bear owners, and forestry officials to hatch a daring plan to free the cubs.
With an assumed identity, our informer (who cannot be named for his own safety) arrived in the village to try to locate the cubs. Pakhitola is a large Kalandar settlement of about 45 families and our informer was met with suspicion on arrival. However, since he spoke the Kalandar dialect, the villagers accepted his cover story that he had come from neighboring Uttar Pradesh to buy bear cubs to train for the cruel practice of “dancing”.
The informer was introduced to the owners of the cub and taken to discuss terms of the purchase, however the suspicious owners would not show the bear to the informer that day or the next. After the informer waited most of the following day, ensuring he had time to map out the village in case a raid became necessary, he was finally shown the vulnerable cub.
On the third day of the investigation, our informer managed to see the second bear cub and also report back to WTI that both cubs had been found, recommending immediate rescue. If the owners decided to move on, as is common, it would be difficult to locate the bears again. A WTI staff member flew into the nearest airport from Delhi after receiving the informer’s call. The employee then made the long road journey to the area where the cubs were being held and met with the informer to hatch a rescue plan.
The informer felt that the owners did not want to sell either cub and, with the risk of them moving out of the area, it was decided that a raid would have to be conducted. Village raids require police back-ups and a large number of vehicles, which create immediate suspicion. The team also did not have sufficient information about the village, such as the possible presence of arms, and so the operation would require the support of Jharkhand forestry department.
Fortunately the forestry officials agreed to assist and, after five days of investigations and planning, the WTI team and a local forestry officer drew up a plan to rescue the bears with assistance from two village informers. Then, the WTI officer asked one informer to lead two forestry staff in plain clothes to one of the owner’s houses. One cub was found, chained inside the house, but the owners sensed trouble and escaped with the other cub.
By the time the team had freed the cub, it was dark and there was no way of tracking the two Kalandars who had escaped into the forest with the other cub. The team left the village to avoid endangering the informers and the cub was then given a medical checkup, before being released into the care of the forestry department. The cub will soon be moved to a government-run facility.