Kartick Hugs Odum bear.
Courtesy Wildlife SOS India.
My first trip to India, way back in 2000, was an exhilarating experience. Yet, it was also tinged with sadness and dismay, particularly after seeing the pitiful dancing bears that lined the sides of the road from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri. If you travel that route today, you won't see the bears though.
Thanks to the remarkable work of Wildlife SOS India and a number of other animal rescue groups, what was believed to be the last dancing bear was removed from the streets in 2009. This brought to an end the 400 year old practice of a nomadic tribe, known as the Kalandars, of capturing sloth bears, smashing their teeth and putting a rope through their muzzles, and forcing them to perform. According to estimates, there were around 1,200 of these bears in India in 2002.
What's really noteworthy is that the Kalandars weren't forced to give up the bears, which they used to earn their livelihood. Instead, they were encouraged to exchange them for training in alternative work, financial help to get started, and school education for their children. Now, they are not only able to earn more money but also have respectable legal occupations.
The bears are being looked after and rehabilitated in specially set up bear rescue centers in India. It's possible to take a detailed guided tour of the centers by appointment. There's one in Agra -- it was the first one set up on 160 acres of land allotted by the Uttar Pradesh government. It houses nearly 300 rescued bears.
If you're interested in learning more about the bear rescue success story, have a read of this very inspiring and informative National Geographic article.
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