“The scars on Raju’s disfigured muzzle and several missing teeth act as a constant reminder of the cruelty inflicted upon hundreds of innocent bear lives..."
Animal cruelty is often overlooked by people because they fail to see it happen. In many of the rural areas in developing countries, forms of animal cruelty have been going on for years and is seen as a tradition, hence people do not recognize it as a crime. It isn't just in the circus that animals are made to perform, in fact, bears have been made to dance in the streets of many rural places in India for decades. One such place where this practice was seen until a few years back is Chikka Haravalli, a small town in Karnataka, India. This practice of making a bear dance for money has been going on in this town for the past 400 years. In 2009, a bear named Raju was rescued from the streets.
Raju, the 16-year-old male sloth bear, recently marked seven years of freedom at Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre. He was among 628 other bears that were abused and forced to dance in the streets for money. These bears were rescued by an animal welfare organization known as Wildlife SOS, under Union Environment Ministry's "Dancing Bear Rehabilitation Project". In order to obey their owners, the bears were often tortured, like having their muzzle pierced with hot iron pokers to tie a rope around them and keep them under control.
The bear was found in the regions inhabited by the Kalandar community, a former nomadic community (now largely settled). The community was known for taming bears to make a living. Dancing bears were made illegal in India when the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 came into effect. In 2009, the last of the dancing bears were rescued, taken off the streets, and finally liberated. The bears were moved to various national parks around the country.
"Over the years we've seen his physical wound heal because of vet care, but the psychological trauma took much longer to heal. After seven years, there's now a noticeable decline in its stereotypical behavior, which is indicative of gradual recovery from his traumatic past. We provide them enrichment that stimulates the natural instincts, coupled with healthy nutritious diet and large spaces to roam and interact with other bears... that has helped him recover over the last seven years," Kadambari Atri from Wildlife SOS told the News Minute.
From the perspective of the passerby, it would seem as though the bear was dancing but in reality, he was actually squirming in pain as he was constantly pulled around, back and forth, by his owner, like a cruel puppeteer. People began to speak against the practice in the mid-1900s and an act banning the practice was finally passed in 1972. There have been multiple wildlife protection and rescue groups that have been working towards ending such practices across the country.
When Raju was rescued, he was the only endangered sloth bear who was still a part of the industry. Now, the 16-year-old bear is said to be living an amazing life at the Wildlife SOS Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center. “The scars on Raju’s disfigured muzzle and several missing teeth act as a constant reminder of the cruelty inflicted upon hundreds of innocent bear lives, all in the name of the dancing bear practice that was once prevalent in India,” Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said in a statement.
She further added, “However, Raju turned out to be a bear of extraordinary emotional strength and character, despite everything he had been through in the past.” Raju now lives with hundreds of other bears at the sanctuary and behaves like a completely different bear now. He doesn't spend his days in pain but rather in foraging snacks, climbing trees, playing with other bears, and laying in the sun. “Over the years, we have watched Raju grow and transform into a strong and spirited bear,” Dr. Arun. A. Sha, Director of the rescue’s veterinary operations, said.
He further added, “It has been a great journey for all of us, from the place where all hope seemed to be lost to this little haven where Raju and hundreds of other bears have found a home and their freedom.” At the time of rescue, Raju was undernourished, weighing only around a 130lbs as compared to a regular adult sloth bear that weighs around 310lbs. After he was rescued, the practice in the community was put to an end with the help of education and training for alternative occupations.
This week marks 8 years since we made history & rescued the last dancing bear from the streets of India. With our partners Wildlife SOS we were able to end the cruel practice once and for all. Mark this special anniversary by gifting a pot of honey: https://t.co/MFwDr28QrJ pic.twitter.com/0u1ph1GRVx— IAR (Animal Rescue) (@IAR_updates) December 19, 2017
This species falls in the list of endangered species as there are only around 20,000 sloth bears left in the world. The reason behind the decreasing population of this species is poaching and habitat loss. In the olden days, these bears were hunted down extensively and moved to live in isolated enclaves. They are nocturnal animals and are generally solitary in nature, the only time males and females come together is during the period of heat. There are multiple organizations in India that are working towards the conservation of this species.