India leads Asia with bold new plan to protect bears

Delhi, 26 November: India has today launched a national bear welfare and conservation plan to help prevent cruelty to bears and protect vulnerable populations in the wild. The strategy will also prevent the re-emergence of the brutal practice of bear dancing.

The Government worked with leading global and national organisations, including the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to create the National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan (NBCWAP). The far-reaching strategy will help protect bear populations in the 26 Indian states where they are found in the wild and tackle the main issues threatening bears including: illegal trade in bear body parts and bear cubs, reducing human-bear conflicts, retaliatory bear killings, habitat loss.

Culmination of WSPA bear protection work in India

With the plan underway, WSPA completes 17 years of bear welfare work in India and announces the successful closure of its alternative livelihood programme with partners the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI). This unique five year project has empowered Kalandars – the traditional dancing bear owners – to take on new careers of their choice, providing stable incomes for their families while releasing their bears from lives of misery.

The WSPA and WTI programme has had a 100 per cent success rate with none of the final 50 Kalandars – who were some of the last to surrender their bears and most resistant to changing their livelihoods – returning to the cruel practice. Three quarters of participants continue to earn above average wages after 12 months in their alternate careers. One Kalandar, who trained as a baker, now runs his own bakery employing other community members. In Chorbhatti village former bear dancers have set-up a self-help group which they contribute money to. The finances cover small loans for fellow Kalandars so they can expand their businesses.

Before the end of bear dancing, over a hundred bear cubs were poached from the wild every year to meet demand. Cubs had their teeth knocked out and their noses pierced with hot needles. Nose rings were used to train the bears to dance with their owners who would move from village to village performing for a meager income.

Working in partnership to end bear dancing for good

WSPA has also focused on sustainable protection for sloth bear cubs in India. Working with WTI it has developed and delivered anti-poaching and surveillance training to over 400 Government forestry staff and volunteers who oversee remote poaching hubs to prevent bears from being taken from the wild. The Government will maintain and expand this training as part of the new NBCWAP. In addition, the NBCWAP will provide a valuable framework for the ongoing work that is needed to ensure bears are protected in India.

WSPA CEO Mike Baker today joined WTI colleagues in New Delhi to officially close WSPA’s successful programme of work and witness the Government’s historic announcement. He said:

“Today is a momentous day – India’s bears have finally been recognized as the magnificent creatures they are. No longer are they viewed as commodities and treated cruelly for entertainment. They are truly respected and are protected in their natural environment, taking their rightful place alongside other treasured wild animals such as tigers and elephants.”

He added: “WSPA has been protecting bears in India for almost 20 years. Working with WTI we have increased awareness of animal welfare issues in remote communities and empowered Kalandars to move into jobs that do not inflict cruelty on animals.”

Rescued dancing bears are being cared for in life long care centres managed by Wildlife SOS, International Animal Rescue, and Free the Bears in partnership with the Indian Government. These centres provide a safe home for 395 bears, receiving world-class veterinary care and husbandry as they recover from the many physical and psychological scars left after their lives of torture as dancing bears. These sanctuaries are part of a broader programme of work by Wildlife SOS that has helped to end bear dancing in India.

WTI’s Chief Executive Vivek Menon said: “Generations of Kalandars had been trapped in their traditional livelihoods, living on the road earning from bear dancing – a practice that exposed bears to great cruelty and suffering. The last of India’s Kalandars now have stable incomes, are getting settled in alternative livelihoods and are sending their children to school while their bears are free from harm and cruelty.”

WSPA India: from strength to strength

As WSPA finalises its successful programme to protect bears in India, it will be expanding its animal welfare campaigns in the country. WSPA India will continue to implement animal welfare training for veterinarians and remote communities to improve protection for animals during disasters. It will also introduce work to stop cruelty to dogs, supporting the only effective rabies response: dog vaccination.

Internationally, WSPA continues its campaign to protect bears; across Asia it is working to stop the exploitation of bears used for the horrific blood sport of bear-baiting and in the cruel and unnecessary bear bile industry.


Media inquiries

Contact: Adam Valvasori
Mobile: +61 414 612 274
India: +91 11 465 393 44

Media opportunities

For interviews with WSPA CEO Mike Baker in New Delhi or visits to Kalandar communities and interview former bear Kalandars contact Communications Manager Adam Valvasori: Mobile: +61 414 612 274 or India Landline: +91 11 465 393 44. Email:

B-roll of Kalandar interviews:

Images of bears and campaign:

To attend the premiere of WSPA documentary A Dance to Forget at 7:30pm, 26 November, in New Delhi contact Adam Valvasori.

Notes to Editors

  • The NBCWAP is a coordinated approach to protecting India’s four bear species: the sloth, brown, black and sun bear in the 26 states in which they are found in the wild. India is one of only two countries in the world to have four of the eight species of bears. They are found in 26 of India’s 28 states.
  • WSPA supported research and writing for the largest segment of the NBCWAP relating to Sloth bears, with the W ildlife Trust of India and the Wildlife Institute leading on the plan’s development. The International Fund for Animal Welfare also played a role supporting the joint effort. 
  • The last Kalandars admitted to the WSPA and WTI alternative livelihood initiative completed the programme in October 2012. WTI staff will continue to monitor and support the last few participants into 2013. 
  • In 1995 WSPA commissioned WSOS to investigate the extent of the dancing bear problem in India. The dancing bears of India (1997) found there were 1,200 bears being forced to perform in India. Examinations of almost 100 bears revealed torn cartilage and large cuts, distorted muzzles and several openings in the nose indicating re-piercing. Trainers explained this was because headstrong or ill-tempered bears would have to be re-pierced in a bid to tame them with pain. 
  • The report also indicated that 100-200 new bear cubs were being poached every year to fuel the tradition. Kalandars agree the percentage of bears lost in the first year as a result of the traumatic removal from nature, clandestine transportation to bear markets and brutal conditioning was as high as 40%.

About WSPA

WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) is the world’s leading animal welfare charity. We have been protecting animals around the world over 30 years. We passionately believe that animal welfare matters. At WSPA, we will always expose and oppose the exploitation and suffering of animals. We believe animal cruelty must end, whether that animal is in the wild, living in the community, caught up in a disaster or being farmed.

Today, WSPA works in over 50 countries, collaborating with local communities, NGOs and governments that can help us change an imals’ lives for the better. We also act for animals at a global level, using our United Nations consultative status to give them a voice.

We work responsibly and sustainably, to put animal welfare on the global agenda and show that what’s good for animals is good for the world.

For more information about WSPA International visit

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