India's Sloth Bears

After a telephone call from Maneka Gandhi in India, Free the Bears joined Wildlife SOS and International Animal Rescue in the seemingly impossible challenge of rescuing India’s dancing bears.

For over 400 years, the sloth bear had been exploited by a nomadic tribe known as the Kalandars. Originally used as entertainment for emporers, 'dancing' bears eventually became entertainment for villagers and tourists. Mother bears were killed and cubs sold to the Kalandar people, who would then put a red hot poker through the muzzle of the baby bear, often without anaesthetic. A rope was threaded through the sensitive muzzle and then pulled to cause the bear to ‘dance’, a truly horrific practice and miserable life for the bear.

The first group of 25 rescued bears entered the Agra Bear Rescue Facility on Christmas Eve of 2002 and over the next seven years Free the Bears fully supported the Kalander Rehabilitation Program, providing seed money for more than 500 former dancing bear families to set up new livelihoods. They now have a stable community full of successful small businesses and their children have attended school & university for the first time ever - a wonderful success story.

In 2009 the last of India’s dancing bears was handed over and the sight of bears being dragged on ropes through the streets of India is now consigned to the past. The rescued sloth bears are living in four large, natural sanctuaries operated by Wildlife SOS organisation, who we helped support for over 18 years.