On 22 January, WSPA led an undercover operation in Orissa, India with its local member society, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the local police to save two sloth bear cubs from a cruel life of bear ‘dancing’. Sloth bears are listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
As well as the confiscation of the two cubs, both aged approximately two months old, the operation led to the arrest of the two traders attempting to sell them into the illegal ‘bear dancing’ trade, that sees small sloth bears poached as cubs, subjected to a lifetime of physical and mental stress, and made to ‘dance’ on command.
Based on undercover information provided by WSPA and WTI, the two cubs were confiscated in the town of Juhupura under the supervision of the Superintendent of Keonjhar Police, Ashish Kumar. The two sloth cubs were reportedly taken about three weeks ago from nearby forests.
Evidence that bear dancing is almost over
This is the first time in two years that Indian bear cubs have been rescued from a future life of cruelty, while bear ‘dancing’ has been in steady decline across India and is believed to be close to eradication.
“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.”
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 epicentre, Orissa’s Sambalpur district. It is now believed that there are now less than 30 bears still ‘dancing’ across India today, in rural areas and bordering Nepal.
Are new smuggling routes emerging
However, this new seizure in the Orissa’s Keonjhar district may mark the attempt of a new smuggling route out of Orissa and into 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 we handed over to WSOS to own and manage.
WSPA has brought in several international NGOs to support WSOS in the ongoing work of rescuing dancing bears and managing the sanctuary
In 2004, we teamed up with WTI in a five-year project to eradicate bear ‘dancing’ in India and all associated poaching, which has resulted in today’s low incidence of such events.
WSPA and WTI run the Sloth Bear Conservation and Welfare Project to assist relevant enforcement authorities in various states, including Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. The project deploys a holistic approach, retraining Kalandars who have engaged in bear ‘dancing’ for reasons of tradition and extreme poverty, spreading awareness through campaigns, trade control, strengthening protection in sloth bear habitats, and intelligence gathering.