India’s bears belong in the wild: our work has helped to keep them there. Together, WSPA and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) have protected sloth bears from poachers and created new livelihoods for former bear owners. Now, we are working with the government to plan a better future for these amazing animals.
Thanks to the dedication of groups including WSPA and WTI, the cruel ‘dancing bear’ trade in India has been effectively eradicated.
In 1995, a WSPA-sponsored survey found approximately 1,200 performing bears on India’s streets. In 2010, a survey we carried out with WTI estimated just 10-15 bears located in remote parts of the country, some moving freely between India and Nepal.
WSPA and WTI are determined to see India’s wild bears protected in their natural habitat. Together, we are working with the government and bear conservation experts to make sure that bears are included in India’s national wildlife policy for the first time ever.
The result will be the creation of a National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan for India, ensuring that the country’s wild bears are protected from harm in the long term.
For years, the ‘dancing bear’ trade was fuelled by the poaching of wild bear cubs. These young bears endured a lifetime of physical and mental distress: controlled by a rope passed through a painful raw piercing in the palate or nose, they were forced to ‘dance’ for paying audiences.
Today, the landscape is very different. An imaginative joint initiative with WTI enabled the training of 400 frontline forest guards to enforce the country’s wildlife laws, and brought local people from areas near bear-habitat together to form ‘Village Forest Protection Groups’.
Four permanent village groups are now working with government forest protection officers in some of India’s main poaching hot-spots. For example, the team of local people in Terebeda, a remote village of just 50 houses in Orissa state, patrols the forest at least three times a week during the winter bear denning season to thwart would-be poachers.
In November 2011, the Terebeda team was responsible for bringing six poachers to justice – a small victory but a huge deterrent in an area where punishment for this wildlife crime has previously been almost non-existent.
WSPA and WTI have also provided assistance to former dancing bear owners, bear poachers and their families. In total, our work convinced 46 dancing bear owners to surrender their bears in exchange for training in cruelty-free livelihoods of their choice, such as rickshaw driving or selling clothing and groceries.
In 2012, we continue to support and monitor their progress to ensure that they are stable in their new profession and prepared for a future in which the dancing bear trade is well and truly a thing of the past.
For more information about WSPA’s work with WTI, watch how our bear protection work developed in film and images >>