Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions Index > India
India's ARAs claim victory over "dancing bears"

by Farah Hyder
Dec 2, 2012

NEW DELHI: India's animal rights community is claiming victory after forcing the government to intervene and force the retirement of poorly fed and cruel practices in the treatment of bears forced to dance on the country's streets.

"This is a great moment for animal rights in India because it proves our voices can be heard," Kailash, a 22-year-old university student in Delhi and animal rights proponent, told on Sunday after reading about the news.
He praised his fellow activists for "stepping up" and "showing the country that this is not how we treat living souls."

According to activists, the "dancing bears" tradition of forcing sloth bears to dance for entertainment dates back to the 13th century, but in recent times has become increasingly cruel.

Cubs would be purchased on the black market for as little as $22 (1,200 rupees) and then forced to have heated iron rods placed into their sensitive snouts.

The animals would then have their teeth and claws removed, then a "trainer" would put a rope through the snout and go to the streets, forcing the animal to move in order to earn a few rupees daily.

"It's taken us many years but all the tribesmen we keep track of have moved on to different livelihoods," Vivek Menon from the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), told AFP on the sidelines of a bear conference in New Delhi last week.
"The tradition might still be present in people's minds, of course, but we don't know of any cases where Kalandars are still practicing it."

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and India-based Wildlife SOS, which runs sanctuaries for bears, have also declared an end to the practice in the last few months � 40 years after a government ban in 1972.

The success points the way for other campaigns, such as the one to rid India of its snake charmers who can still be spotted illegally plying their trade, often with the snakes' mouths sewn shut.

It is a small step to help rid the country of cruelty, activists say, and is likely to bring about more optimism for future campaigns across India.

The sight of poorly fed and badly treated bears being forced to dance
on the streets of India is a thing of the past as a campaign to wipe
out the practice has finally borne fruit, activists say.

The tradition of forcing sloth bears to dance for entertainment dates
back to the 13th century, when trainers belonging to the Muslim
Kalandar tribe enjoyed royal patronage and performed before the rich
and powerful.

Descendants of the tribe from central India had kept the tradition
alive, buying bear cubs from poachers for about 1,200 rupees ($22) and
then hammering a heated iron rod through their sensitive snouts.

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