CNN Video: Our Sloth Bear Rescue Center's Big Success

Created: 17 August 2013

April 19, 2013

Its not often we hear positive news in the world of wildlife conservation. Just this week a Chinese ship ran into a reef and was found to contain hundreds of poached pangolins (scaly anteater) a highly endangered species. In Africa, we heard more news of escalation in the war against rhino poaching, with a revised estimate of a tipping point in 2015 leading to total extinction within 10 years.

But there is good news, too. This week CNN profiled the amazing success of our partners, Wildlife SOS, in completely eliminating this gypsy tradition in India of "dancing" sloth bears. When we first began running wildlife safaris in India, it was impossible to travel the roads within 75 km. surrounding the Taj Mahal without encountering a sickening sight; gypsies torturing captured sloth bears through intense pain so they "dance" for the amusement of tourists. For over 300 years, members of the nomadic 'Kalandar' gypsy community earned their living through this cruel and barbaric 'Bear Dancing' trade -- a form of street entertainment. Even until a few years ago, the Taj Mahal as well as the road to Fatehpur Sikri witnessed this remnant of a brutal tradition left behind from the Mughal period. Gypsies would accost tourist cars & buses with a trained bear in tow and make the bear dance for a few dollars. In the Mughal period this was a source of entertainment for the Mughal emperors and their harem. Bears were trained by gypsies using cruel techniques of piercing their muzzle with a red hot iron needle and made to dance on hot coals. They spent their lives suffering at the end of a short rope and performing a "dance of pain".

One of the first conservation initiatives I included in our India Ultimate Wildlife itinerary was a visit to the sloth bear rescue center run by Wildlife S.O.S, with a percentage of traveler's dollars allocated to supporting this ground-breaking approach to end the cruel tradition of 'Dancing' bears. Wildlife SOS trains the Kaladar gypsies in alternative professions and care for the rescued bears at one of several rescue facilities. To date, 472 bears have been rescued from a life of pain and suffering. Today these bears spend their lives snacking on fruits and honey, learning how to climb trees, frolicking in ponds and exploring the natural environs of the rescue centers. This compassionate and sustainable approach of rescuing "dancing bears" while simultaneously rehabilitating the Kalandar Community (who have been dependent on the bears for their livelihood) has been extremely successful. As CNN acknowledges in the video above, the famous Delhi-Agra-Jaipur Highway & the areas around Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra have now been completely cleared of "Dancing bears". In fact,there have been no "dancing" bears to rescue for 4 years now, and the tradition is dead amongst the Kalandar gypsies.

You can visit the sloth bear rescue center on Wild Planet Adventure's award-winning 13-day and 19-day India Ultimate Wildlife Safari: Leopards, Tigers & Palaces. The contribution of Wild Planet's guests goes to the care and feeding of the rescued bears and maintain the ability to rescue any remaining dancing bears off of Indian streets. Your dollars also contribute to ultimately stopping the poaching of sloth bear cubs from the wild, thereby conserving the wild population, too.

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