“I miss Reech my bear, but I really like my school, I’m making new friends and it is so nice not to be always travelling around…”
For the first time in her life 10-year-old Tamanna from the state of Bihar in north east India goes to school. She lives in a small house on the outskirts of a village called Mogalakhor, and is no longer constantly on the move with her mother, father, siblings and Reech, the family’s dancing bear.
Thanks to a WSPA and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) project Reech's welfare now comes first and he is being cared for by the Bihar Forest Department.
The rope which had been inserted through his nose six years ago to force him to ‘dance’ was removed shortly after his rescue. He will never have to entertain anyone again.
Meanwhile Tamanna’s father Mohammad has been helped to find another way of making a living: a WSPA–WTI grant has enabled him to buy a plot of land and two cycle rickshaws with which he offers a taxi service.
Although he is not yet making as much money as he was with his bear, his family has a more stable existence, his children can go to school and Reech is no longer suffering in the name of entertainment.
Tamanna and Mohammad are Kalandars – nomadic people that for nearly 500 years have earned their living by entertaining and performing with their dancing bears.
Dancing bears suffer greatly and for two years WSPA and WTI have been working to rescue the sloth bears involved in this cruel tradition, which has been against the law in India since 1998.
However, when bear dancing became illegal there were few other ways that Kalandar people could earn a living, so they continued to let their bears dance and hoped they wouldn’t be caught by the authorities.
Then WSPA and WTI starting approaching Kalandar bear owners in Bihar, offering them help in finding alternative livelihoods and persuading them to give up their bears.
Mohammad is just one of 70 Kalandars that have stopped keeping bears since the scheme began. The WSPA and WTI team are monitoring his progress and giving him the encouragement he needs to make his new livelihood a success.
“It is hard to make a living for my family,” says Mohammad. “Some days I earned more with Reech than with my taxis, but I know I am not going to be arrested for keeping a bear illegally and for the first time ever my children are getting an education. I’m proud to be able to give them this.”