Latest bear cub rescue: Two sloth bear cubs seized in Orissa

Jan 24, 2011

Sloth bear cubs seized in Orissa

On January 22 the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) led an undercover operation in Juhupura, Orissa, India to save two sloth bear cubs from a cruel life of bear ‘dancing.’ WSPA partnered with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the local police department in Orissa’s Keonjhar district to carry out a mission – the first of its kind in two years – to rescue Indian bear cubs from a future life of cruelty.

In addition to the confiscation of two 2-month-old cubs, the operation led to the arrest of the traders attempting to sell them into the illegal bear ‘dancing’ trade. The cubs were reportedly poached about three weeks ago from nearby forests. As ‘dancing’ bears they would have been subjected to a lifetime of physical and mental stress. The cubs would have been made to ‘dance’ on command by tugging on a rope passed through a piercing in their sensitive noses.

Evidence that bear dancing has nearly ended

One of the cubs seized

Sloth bears are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Working with WTI and the Orissa Forest Department, WSPA has ensured that since 2008 no bears have been removed from the wild in the industry’s epicenter, Orissa’s Sambalpur district.

“Thanks to the collaboration of WSPA and WTI with the police and local intelligence networks, we are preventing further bear cubs from being introduced into the cruel practice of bear ‘dancing’, says WSPA’s Neil D’Cruze. “We aim to ensure that the decline in bear ‘dancing’ is permanent. In this case, thankfully, these beautiful creatures have been spared a life of cruelty, and there are now a range of facilities within India where such sloth bears can be cared for.”

Bear ‘dancing’ has been in steady decline across India and is believed to be close to eradication. It is believed that there are fewer than 30 bears still ‘dancing’ across India today.

New smuggling routes may be emerging

However, this new seizure in the Orissa’s Keonjhar district may mark the attempt of a new smuggling route out of Orissa into neighboring Bihar state.

“With this seizure, it is clear that bear traders are now looking for alternatives,” says Ashok Kumar, Vice-chairman, WTI. “Areas like Keonjhar that are located near state boundaries and have sloth bears in the wild should be monitored to curb this trade.”

WSPA’s work to end bear ‘dancing’

Since 1996, WSPA has campaigned to end bear ‘dancing’ in India. In 2002, WSPA completed the construction of India’s first bear sanctuary in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which was handed over to Wildlife SOS (WSOS) to own and manage. WSPA has brought in several international non-governmental organizations to support WSOS in the ongoing work of rescuing dancing bears and managing the sanctuary.

In 2004, WSPA teamed up with WTI in a five-year project to eradicate ‘dancing’ bears in India and all associated poaching, which has resulted in today’s low incidence of such events. WSPA and WTI run the Integrated Sloth Bear Conservation and Welfare Project to assist relevant enforcement authorities in various Indian states, including Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. The project deploys a holistic approach retraining members of the Kalandar community who have engaged in bear ‘dancing’ for reasons of tradition and extreme poverty, spreading awareness through campaigns, controlling trade, strengthening protection in sloth bear habitats, and gathering intelligence to help with confiscations and arrests.

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A dancing bear with pierced muzzle, India