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Saving The Dancing Bears Of India

Updated on December 17, 2013

Wildlife S.O.S. is Saving The Dancing Bears Of India

Here, I'll share with you the tragic story of the Dancing Bears of India and the uplifting story of their ongoing rescue. As you read their story, you may wince and want to stop, but please read on. There IS hope for these mistreated Sloth Bears.

Wildlife S.O.S. (the only Dancing Bear Rescue and Sanctuaries in India) has been rescuing and rehabilitating these bears since 2002.

Read more about this wonderful organization, their founders and bear-givers (did you get that? like care-givers. I coined that, I think -- LOL) and their programs below. You'll see it's not as simple as just getting the bears off the streets and into the sanctuary. There is so much more: the rehabilitation of the traumatized bears; teaching them how to be bears; the ongoing care and feeding of 600 bears; the veterinarian care; the retraining the bears "owners"; and stopping the poachers -- to name just a few.

Read on and learn about the past, the present and the future of these wonderful Sloth Bears and how Wildlife S.O.S. is saving the Dancing Bears of India, one bear at a time.

Crowdwise Holiday Challenge - Save Nepals Dancing Bears

Rescued Bear
Rescued Bear

You can help have Nepals Dancing Bears through the Crowdwise Holiday Challenge. To read more about the campaign an dhow you can help,Click on the photo above or Save Nepals Dancing Bears and you'll be taken to the challenge.

dancing bear of india
dancing bear of india

This silhouetted dancing bear graphic will represent Dancing Bears. This is in protest to the use of sloth bears as Dancing Bears and will also warn that graphic descriptions are in the module.

Sloth Bear with Cubs - How Sloth Bears Should live

Sloth Bear with Cubs - How Sloth Bears Should live
Sloth Bear with Cubs - How Sloth Bears Should live

BREAKING NEWS: Dec. 18, 2009

One of the last dancing bears surrendered

BREAKING NEWS-December 18, 2009: One of the last remaining Dancing Bear was surrendered to Wildlife S.O.S. bringing an end to the centuries-old tradition that inflicted terrible cruelty on thousands of highly endangered sloth bears.

Although the practice of dancing bears was made illegal in India when the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 came into effect, it wasn't until the end of 2002, when the Wildlife SOS Agra Bear Rescue Facility opened its doors, that there was anywhere to house the rescued bears. (The tortured bears can not be returned to the wild because they can not survived on their own.)

The work now will focus on the rehabilitation of the 600+ bears and maintaining the rescue facilities that will house these bears for life. Wildlife S.O.S. will also be able to focus more energy and funds on protecting the sloth bears in the wild.

A very happy and momentous day in wildlife conservation and animal welfare.

EDITOR'S NOTE from the press release:

With informants across the country, and a recently concluded advertising campaign designed to encourage bear dancers to turn in their bears, Wildlife SOS is confident that there are only about 30 or so remaining dancing bears in India. However, given India's vast size and rather porous borders, Wildlife SOS recognizes the possibility that there may be a few more dancing bears hidden away in remote areas, or in neighboring countries, and remains firmly committed to rescuing any bears that may be discovered in the future.The work is not over, however, as the the over 600 rescued bears must live in the bear sanctuaries.

For the full press release, click Final Curtain

How The Sloth Bears Are Captured

Poacher take over 100 Sloth Bear cubs per year from the wild. The cubs, who are snatched from their mothers when they are just weeks old, witness their mothers being brutally killed while trying to defend them.

These cubs are taken to be sold to the Kalandars, a nomadic people, who turn them into "Dancing Bears". The majority of cubs often die before reaching the Kalandars' villages from trauma, dehydration, starvation or all three.

Those who survive are sold for about 8,000 rupees each ($200).

A Sloth Bear Cub Saved From Poachers

Safely At Wildlife Rescue

This little guy is one of the lucky ones. He was saved from poachers by Wildlife S.O.S. before they reached the Kalandar buyer. He will be hand-raised and taught to be a bear. He'll grow up with and play with the other cubs and bears that are saved. He'll do bear things and be safe while doing them. He will have a good and long life thanks to Wildlife S.O.S. and their commitment to save all of these wonderful bears.

Poached Sloth Bear Cubs Introduction To The Kalandars

The cubs are most often tiny and fragile when captured and are roughly handled by the poachers. Enduring severe shock compounded by fear, the cubs finally arrive at a Kalandars village.

When they arrive, their torment continues. The Kalandar, who want the bear to be submissive so all in their power to dominate the cub. The cubs first few days are spent under an upside-down basket. In the Dark. Without food, water, or contact of any kind.

Next the cub is taken from under the basket and tied to a post in the village where the children torment the already frightened animal.

Before the age of 6 months, the cub's muzzle is pierced with a red-hot poker, without anesthesia. The poker is forced through the bone, cartilage and nerve membrane in the top of the muzzle. A coarse rope is then pulled through the wound, sometimes resulting in an infection.

In many cases, a second piercing is necessary, usually done before the first wound has healed. Before they reach a year old, their teeth are knocked out with a hammer -- with no anesthetic.

Between 60% and 70% of the cubs die before they can be trained. Surviving cubs suffer a punishing regime of beatings and starvation to make them submissive to their trainers. Cubs normally spend at least two years with their mothers, so it is not difficult to imagine their fear as they are subjected to an unnatural existence ridden with pain.

Another Cub Saved By Wildlife S.O.S. (Still In Poacher's Bag)

Another Cub Saved By Wildlife S.O.S. (Still In Poacher's Bag)
Another Cub Saved By Wildlife S.O.S. (Still In Poacher's Bag)

How Sloth Bears Are Trained To Dance

To train the bear to dance, hot coals are placed under their feet and the muzzle pain is exacerbated as the trainer pulls on the rope forcing the cub to stand upright. Under their thick collars, cuts are made to inflict more pain, thus the bears' undivided attention and complete compliance.

Once upright the trainers strike each hind paw with a stick. To avoid the pain, the bear lifts each foot in turn. Eventually, the trainer has only to strike the ground for the bear to lift its feet. It is now a "dancing" bear. A tap on the muzzle causes the bear to fold its paws over its nose in a gesture of "greeting" to amuse the audience.

The bear is taught to fear its owner, a simple matter when the animal is small. As the bear gets bigger and stronger, the owner, needing to exert full control, reinforces the fear by hitting the animal across the face with sticks and ropes.

If the bear shows any sign of rebellion, the rope through the muzzle is forcibly pulled to make the bear stand and, in many cases, the muzzle is re-pierced to exert control through further pain.

In the end, the spirit is broken.

Contented Rescued Bear At Wildlife S.O.S. Agra Sanctuary In Agra

Contented Rescued Bear At Wildlife S.O.S. Agra Sanctuary In Agra
Contented Rescued Bear At Wildlife S.O.S. Agra Sanctuary In Agra

After Training - Taking The Dancing Bear On The Road

The Suffering Continues

Once trained, the bears travel with their owners for eight or nine months of the year, often over long distances and mostly on foot. On average, the bears work about 6 hours a day and up to 10 hours for special occasions such as weddings, festivals and fairs. While on the road the trainer may allow his bear to have enough leeway on the rope to forage by the roadside for ants or other insects. Life on the road is hard for both bear and owner, no form of medical help is available for either.

The bears may suffer, and die, from stress, training methods, gastro-intestinaldisorders, respiratory diseases and worm infestations. When medical help is needed, the Kalandars rarely consult a vet, preferring instead to ask village elders for advice.

Laila -- Another saved bear cub

Laila -- Another saved bear cub
Laila -- Another saved bear cub

A Dancing Bears Fate When They Can No Longer Dance

A Dancing Bear has several fates that await her when she can no longer dance due to age or illness (most have tuberculosis)...

Many are transported to Nepal, Bangladesh or Pakistan where they are killed for their gall bladder or as a entrée in a gourmet dinner.

Others have their gall bladders harvested for eastern medicine. India is the 4th largest supplier of gall bladders to Japan according to Traffic International.

The Indian Sloth Bear is also the bear used in the bear baiting fights in Pakistan where the bear is tied up, then dogs are set on it. The bears that survive after a fight is stopped, are put up to fight again after her bite wounds heal. A bear usually only lasts 3 fights before she is literally torn to pieces.

A rescued cub at Wildlife S.O.S. Sanctuary

A rescued cub at Wildlife S.O.S. Sanctuary
A rescued cub at Wildlife S.O.S. Sanctuary

The Statistics Behind The Dancing Bears

The statistics are gruesome

Even though the Sloth Bear is a protected animal under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, over 100 cubs a year are poached for the Dancing Bear trade. Here's what happens to them.

A total of 60% to 70% of the cubs die before training.

20% from shock of separation from their mothers

20% to 40% die during transportation

20% die during early handling

40% of the remaining cubs die during their first year.

Life Expectancy:

Dancing Bears - 7 to 8 years

Wild Sloth Bears - up to 30 years

Wildlife S.O.S.

Saving The Dancing Bears of India.

India's First Sanctuaries For Dancing Bears

Founded And Operated By Wildlife S.O.S.

In 1998, Wildlife SOS, an Indian Charity dedicated to saving India's animals, was offered land to build the first ever rescue center for bears in India. Co-founders, Geeta Seshamani and Kartick Satyanarayan, undertook an 18-month research project to understand the issues and the needs of the bears and the Kalandar people and developed the India Bear Rescue Project and Tribal Rehabilitation.

In 1999 construction of the sanctuary began within the Sur Sarovar Bird Sanctuary near Agra. A 2,000 acre forestry department owned conservation area, just a few miles away from the world famous Taj Mahal.

In December 2002, the sanctuary was completed with joint funding from UK charity International Animal Rescue, and the Australian group Free The Bears Fund. The first six bears were rescued on Christmas Eve of that year.

The site is secure, with a walled perimeter and electric fencing. It has man-made dens, several large pools, quarantine dens and socialization areas, a state of the art veterinary clinic and laboratory, food preparation and storage rooms. The goal is to make the bears as comfortable as possible and the sanctuary is as close to a wild environment as possible, with artificial means being used where necessary to help the bears.

By January 2007 the number of bears rescued by Wildlife SOS and International Animal Rescue had risen to more than 350. After signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU ) with the Forestry Department in the southern state of Karnataka, the two charities took on a second sanctuary in Bannerghatta near Bangalore., using the tried and tested successful methods adopted in Agra. An additional 145 acres of adjacent forest land has been acquired in Agra to allow expansion, and holding centers in Bhopal and Hyderabad are also taking in rescued bears.

For frequently asked questions about the Dancing Bears of India, click Frequently asked questions

As of Dec. 2008, 500 bears have been rescued and are being rehabilitated at 4 Wildlife S.O.S. bear sanctuaries.

Video: Rescue Of Sloth Bear Cubs by Wildlife S.O.S.

For The Love Of Sloth Bears

Co-founder, Geeta Seshamani

As you can see by this picture of Co-founder, Geeta Seshamani, and the one below of Co-founder, Kartick Styanarayan, they love these bears and the bears love them in return.

To meet a few of the rescued bears in a Wildlife S.O.S. facility, click Meet the Bears.

6-week-old cub just rescued from poacher

6-week-old cub just rescued from poacher
6-week-old cub just rescued from poacher

Dancing Bears Arrive Wildlife S.O.S. Sanctuary

The Stories of Chameli, Goa and Raju

One of the bears rescued by the sanctuary, Chameli, arrived with her nose full of maggots and a worm burden. She was severely malnourished, having lived on a meager diet of plain rhoti (Indian bread). Now her muzzle has healed and her body weight has almost doubled. She now has the thick, shaggy, black and lustrous coat which all healthy Sloth bears should have. Although wary of humans Chameli does not know, she is still a much happier bear and safe for the rest of her life.

Apart from the dancing bears in the sanctuary, two new arrivals came from a "wild life reserve" in Bondla, Goa where they had been caged, tied by a rope from their noses to the bars of their cages. Another bear, Raju, who featured in a short film "The Final Cut" produced by International Animal Rescue, has also joined the bears in the sanctuary.

The sanctuaries in Agra and Bannerghatta are beacons of hope for the dancing bears of India. With goodwill, funding education and the enforcement of animal welfare laws, hopefully it won't be long before all the sloth bears still dancing on the streets of India, find a safe haven in the sanctuaries, while those bears still in the wild are allowed to roam freely and free from persecution.

What to do if you see a Dancing Bear

How you can help stop the dance

Do NOT give money

Some people give money to get the trainer to stop the dancing while others refuse hoping if they don't give money the dancing will stop.

Unfortunately, the bear loses whether you give money or not. If the trainer gets money for getting them to dance, then they make them dance; if they get money to stop them from dancing, they make them dance so they can get money from those caring folks. They really play into the westerner's heartstrings and we can't help but give to stop the pain; unfortunately it only the stops the pain for a few minutes (until you are no longer on the scene).

DO contact police immediately

Wildlife S.O.S. (WSOS) has created an educational program at the schools and also in public with posters, etc. to let people know to not give money. They advise people to report them to the authorities (police) immediately and tell them exactly where the trainer and bear are. That allows the police to get a rep from Wildlife S.O.S. and together they swoop in arresting the trainer and WSOS takes the bear to the sanctuary.


Little Danny was five years of age when rescued and barely weighed 52 kilos. Today, after three years with us, Danny has become a handsome 120 kilo bear with a full coat. Although he is 8 years of age now, Danny plays in the pond like a youngster, and climbs trees with relish. Danny enjoys the company of his new friend Kavya bear, whom he likes very much.

To read more about her and other rescued dancing bears and saved cubs, click HERE

Saved Sloth Bears Playing at the Sanctuary - Dancing bears free at last!

This Lens Supports Wildlife S.O.S. To Help Save The Dancing Bears Of India

All royalties raised on this lens are donated to Wildlife S.O.S. for their "India Bear Rescue" Project.

You can help save the bears by making your TAX EXEMPT donation to Save the bears

Another Contented Sloth Bear Cub At A Wildlife S.O.S. Dancing Bear Sanctuary

Another Contented Sloth Bear Cub At A Wildlife S.O.S. Dancing Bear Sanctuary
Another Contented Sloth Bear Cub At A Wildlife S.O.S. Dancing Bear Sanctuary

Show Your Support For Wildlife S.O.S.

Get this adorable image of a Sloth Bear on t-shirts, hats and other apparel. To see all products with this design, click More Products

India Bear Rescue Project

Much More Than Bear Rescue And Sanctuaries

Wildlife S.O.S. India Bear Rescue does more than attack the problem of dancing bears. They also are addressing the CAUSES. Here are 3 examples of other programs that are run in conjunction with the bear rescue:

1. Tribal Rehabilitation - a vocational training Project with much needed financial support from The Ford Foundation to retrain the Kalandar for better and more productive lives.

2. Forest Watch which is their undercover team, dedicated towards stopping the poaching and trade of bears and bear cubs in India. The team works closely with the forest department and the police in various states across the country.

3. Education where they hold Conservation Education Workshops where students are immersed in the world of bears at a bear sanctuary; exposed to the cruel and illegal practice of the wildlife trade: sensitized to issues and plight of both the Indian sloth bear and the impoverished kalandars.

Another Saved Bears Smiling In His New Home - Agra Sanctuary

Another Saved Bears Smiling In His New Home - Agra Sanctuary
Another Saved Bears Smiling In His New Home - Agra Sanctuary

Sloth Bear Photo

Photo of sloth bear taken at WSOS' Sloth Bear Rescue Center

I found this travel blog entry by a fellow named Trent when he visited Wildlife SOS (WSOS) Bear Rescue Center in Agra. To see his travel blog about his experience, click Sloth Bear Rescue Center

Mahatma Gandhi quote

"The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be determined by the ways it treats it's animals."

Mahatma Gandhi

POEM: Dancing Bears of India

The people gathered round, to see the bear perform his dance.

He didn't have a choice you see, he didn't stand a chance.

His muzzle had been pierced with a red hot iron bar.

His owner would make sure he didn't wander very far.

He was captured as a baby with just this thing in mind.

His mother she was slaughtered and her cub was left behind.

He was taken to the city in a cage with iron bars.

He was lonely and was frightened of all the trucks and cars.

They left him in a little cage, tied with a rope and chain.

Then, they made him dance all day out in the sun and rain

They tugged hard on the rope, that was threaded through his nose.

They poked him with a big thick stick, to dance up on his toes.

They pulled his canine teeth out, he couldn't eat his natural food.

They tried to feed him other things but it wasn't any good.

He got sick with malnutrition and was left to die in pain.

The people that would do these things must really be insane.

Maureen Flynn-Smith (

Copyright © 2003 by Maureen Flynn-Smith. All Rights Reserved

May be used in unchanged form by avowed Animal Rightists if accompanied by this copyright message.

Co-founder, Kartick Satyanarayan, with rescued cub

Co-founder, Kartick Satyanarayan, with rescued cub
Co-founder, Kartick Satyanarayan, with rescued cub

Kartick Satyanarayan - Champion of India's Dancing Bears

To tell the day-to-day-in-the-bush rescues of these battered sloth bears, I've created a lens about Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder and Director of Wildlife S.O.S. (WSOS)

Kartick, known as the BEAR MAN in India, risks life and limb to save these battered bears.

Along with photos, the lens has a video of an actual undercover rescue of bear cubs from poachers and more information about WSOS and their India Bear Rescue Project. Check it out at Katrick Satyanarayan - Champion of India's Dancing Bears

Here Now!

A lens about Geeta Seshamani whose passion for animals prompted her to start Friendicoes Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals.

Then, after seeing a dancing bear, recruited Kartick to help her "STOP THE DANCE". Her vision and hard work brought Wildlife S.O.S. into existence and keeps it running strong.

Create a Lens To Support Wildlife S.O.S.

You too can make a page like this one and have all or a percentage of the Squidoo Royalties go directly to Wildlife S.O.S. to help save the bears.

The lens can be on anything you want. About your cat, your car, whatever you care about. Believe me, you are an expert in something. If you don't think so, put together a lens about something you are learning -- walk us through the steps -- the where, why, when and how of it.

To make a lens now, click

Another sloth cub rescued from poachers

Another sloth cub rescued from poachers
Another sloth cub rescued from poachers

If not you, who? If not now, when?

Purple Star Received on 9/18/10

A special thanks to Lensmasters Bonnie and Robin for making this lens a Purple Star recipient.

Link To This Lens


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Saving The Dancing Bears of India


This work is covered by copyright and can not be reprinted

in any matter (physical or digital) without prior written consent.

Copyright 2008-2013 Frankie Kangas All rights reserved.

Your comments about this lens, Dancing Bears of India, and/or Wildlife S.O.S. is much appreciated. Thank you and bear hugs, Frankster aka Bearmeister


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