Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Abolish the Practice of Dancing Bears in India

I'm dodging a tear as I read this interview. My heart goes out to these bears. A must-read interview of one of my favourite Indian politician/animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi. I am seriously considering volunteering at this Bear Santuary the next time I'm in India. Please read this interview and donate, as I have, to save these bears from their nightmarish lives in the hands of "Kalanders." And darn the Japs for eating, whales, sharks and bear gall bladders. F-ing insane.


Well-known vegan and animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi and Australian founder of 'Free The Bears Inc', Mary Hutton speak to the Abolitionist-Online about their work to eradicate the practice of 'dancing bears' in India.

Claudette: What is a 'dancing bear'?

Maneka Gandhi: A dancing bear is a sloth bear that has been taken from her mother (she is shot) at the age of a few weeks and trained to stand on her hind legs. The bears do not dance - in the same way as India's cobras in a basket do not sway to the pipe of a snakecharmer , they just swing to avoid the stick which they think is going to beat them.

Maneka Gandhi, Mary Hutton

Claudette: What type of cruelties are inflicted upon them?

Maneka Gandhi: After being captured they are put inside an inverted basket and left alone for several days then when they are completely disoriented they are taken out and tied to a post where they become fair game for the children of the village. Before the little bear cubs are six months old they are held down brutally while a man forces a crude iron needle with a rope through their soft delicate muzzles. By the time they are a year old their teeth are knocked out with hammers without any anesthetic. They are trained to stand upright by putting hot coals under their feet and by beating and starvation. A jute rope is taken through the muzzle and this rope keeps the nose inflamed and the bear in great pain throughout their short life - for these bears rarely survive more than seven to eight years which is less than one fourth of their natural life.

Their nails are pulled out and often a deep cut is made on their necks which is hidden by the thick collar that holds them so that the pain keeps them fearful. They eat a few chappatis a day and most of them suffer from worms and malnutrition. At night they will often be tied near a train station so that the noise keeps them confused. Many have one eye poked out. Many have been bitten by dogs. Many have their hair pulled out as they stand which is sold to tourists (specially in Nepal) for bracelets. Most of them have tuberculosis and as they start fading away they are taken illegally to Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan often to be killed for their gall bladder or even served up as a gourmet dinner. Traffic International has in its reports named India as the fourth largest supplier of bear gall bladders to Japan. It is the Indian sloth bear which is used in the horrific bear baiting fights in Pakistan where the bear is tied and then dogs are set at it. Many wounds later the fight is stopped, the bear taken and her wounds healed and then she is put up for the fight again. A normal bear lasts three fights before she is torn to bits.

Claudette: How are you abolishing the practice of dancing bears?

Mary Hutton: We are abolishing the dancing bear trade in India by introducing the "Kalander Rehabilitation Program". We give the Kalandar (who owns the bear) seed money to begin another business. This equates to $2,000.00 AUS and about 50,000 rupees. In return he gives us his licence and also surrenders his bear into our sanctuary. The program is working well and so far we have over 80 bears in the Agra Bear Rescue Facility. By giving this man an alternative income and saving the bear from an ongoing life of misery and pain makes it a win-win situation for both bear and man.

A Dancing Bear

Maneka Gandhi: If I had my way I would abolish the dancing bear industry by catching them all in one day, putting the offenders into the jails where they richly belong and then put the bears into what's called 'free range enclosures' till they become accustomed to going back to the wild, if they can. The whole exercise can be done in a week. It just requires enough strength to be exerted on the Indian government which, even when I was a part of it, could not do. The current tourism minister is one of the worst we have ever had - she is now pushing to open all the wildlife sanctuaries up for tourism and to let the richer tourists into the protected core of the forests.

Wildlife has the "inalienable right" to the core of the forest. It hasn't stopped her from badgering everyone to let the tourists in. The tourists who actually violate the rules are the spoilt rich and titled ones from England.

Claudette: Do tourists need to be trained not to give money for a performance?

Maneka Gandhi: That does not take it far enough. Many of these people throw the bear against the car or force the bear to lie down in front of the vehicle till money is given. It passed from being an entertainment long ago to be now a threat/menace on the road. Tourists know it is awful.

They need to cancel India from their itinerary and inform the local Indian Embassy that they are doing so until the bear trade is stopped. In fact even if they are not going to India, they still need to write in!

Mary Hutton: Tourists always need to be mindful not to have their photo taken with an exotic animal whether it be bear, monkey or any other animal which brings in the tourist dollar by performing.

Claudette: Please estimate how many Sloth bears are yet to be saved and how much does it cost to save one bear?

Maneka Gandhi: In India between eight to twelve hundred sloth bears need to be rescued. However, illegal trade continues with over 100 cubs illegally captured from the wild each year and sold to the Kalandar community. Unfortunately the government insists that each bear has to be bought - Rs 50,000 a bear from each Kalandar. So that is what it costs to save a bear. Then there's the keeping costs which soon adds up to considerably more.

Claudette: Are Australians aware of the problem Mary?

Mary Hutton: We have hundreds of Australians who are opposed to the 'dancing bears' but they understand that poverty causes the need to bring in money to support their families. There is no welfare in India and no "Centre Link" to help the impoverished - but people understand and support our Kalandar Rehabilititaion Program because they can see the 'situation' from both sides of the fence.

Claudette: Since 1977 it's been against the law to "own" a dancing bear. Why does it continue?

Mary Hutton: We would like to bring to an end the 'dancing' bear problem in India. If we can get every bear off the streets in India, then the poaching will stop and the numbers of Sloth bears will increase in the wild. Our main aim at this time is to do this and we hope to achieve this in less than 5 years providing the funding is available. India is a big country with big conservation problems, most of them caused by the illegal poaching and human encroachment into the wild.

Claudette: Do you think the western model of personhood rights for nonhumans equates somewhat to nonhumans having a soul in Hinduism?

Maneka Gandhi: Of course it does. If I had my way there would be no slaughtering of animals, of all animals. There would be no circuses, no zoos, no experimentation and there would be no using of animal products.

Claudette: How can we who are reading this help you?

Maneka Gandhi: For the bears we need money to rescue and rehome them to WILDLIFE S.O.S Agra Bear Rescue Centre built for rescued dancing bears. Wildlife SOS is run by a dedicated aunt and nephew team: Geetha Seshmani and Kartick Satyanarayan who have devoted their lives to animal rescues. Today there are 80 bears at the sanctuary. They will live here for the rest of their lives enjoying the freedom that was taken away from them .The sanctuary is 17 acres, 25 minute north of Agra City in the Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Keetham .It has solar powered electric fencing and an eight foot high perimeter wall. It has a number of man-made dens for the bears to rest in; large ponds for the bears to chill out in; Quarantine/Isolation/Observation pens; Cub weaning area; Clinical Laboratory; Food storage and preparation rooms and a well equipped veterinary clinic. The money for the alternative lifestyles that is being given to the Kalandars comes from International Animals Rescue from the UK and Free the Bears Fund from Australia. These organisations are running campaigns in their own countries to bring in financial aid to India for the beleaguered bears.

Kartick Satyanarayan with a Bear Cub

If you would like to support them contact:
Wildlife S.O.S. ( R )
D 210, Defence Colony,
New Delhi - 110024, India Phone + 91 11 2462 1939
Telefax - +91 11 2462 4231
E-mail - wsos@vsnl.com

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