Charity rescues 500th dancing bear in India

By Laurence Van Atten

International Animal Rescue has saved its 500th ‘dancing’ bear from the streets of India. The bear has been identified as Chitra, a female. This is a major milestone in its campaign to cut free all the dancing bears and provide them with a safe haven for the rest of their lives. International Animal Rescue believes that 2009 will be the year in which the practice of dancing bears in India is ended for good.

Says Alan Knight OBE, Chief Executive of International Animal Rescue: “We are well on the way to ending the trade in dancing bears in India altogether. By nominating 2009 as International Animal Rescue’s Year of the Bear we aim to give a new impetus to the campaign and rescue all the remaining bears off the streets. In the New Year we will be promoting a new bear adoption program which will enable our supporters to sponsor individual bears in our sanctuaries and follow their progress back to health. We’re also planning some exciting fundraising events and hope to enlist the support of our patrons to ensure they are a real success. Comedians Jo Brand and Bill Bailey have been incredibly supportive of our work in the past and we’re hoping they can spare the time to help us out again during our Year of the Bear.

The first six bears were rescued on Christmas Eve 2002 when the sanctuary in Agra opened its doors. Since then International Animal Rescue has worked with partners Wildlife SOS in India to rescue and rehabilitate adult bears and cubs that were poached from the wild and destined for a life on the streets. The charities believe there are now only 120 dancing bears awaiting rescue.

Alan Knight continues: “We have come a long way since Christmas Eve 2002. From humble beginnings five years ago the Agra sanctuary has grown into the largest rescue facility for sloth bears in the world and a center of excellence for the rescue and rehabilitation of captive bears. We have also opened a second sanctuary in Bannerghatta which cares for bears rescued in the south of India and a more temporary holding centre in Bhopal in central India.”

Dancing bears suffer terrible cruelty during their lives on the streets, resulting in lasting physical and psychological damage. The charity’s Christmas appeal, supported by Bill Bailey, highlights the plight of those bears that have gone blind as a result of malnutrition or brutal beatings to the head. International Animal Rescue is raising funds to provide additional environmental enrichment for them to stimulate their other senses and ward off boredom and depression.

The two charities have already identified a number of bears in the more remote villages in India still waiting to be rescued. The majority are in poor condition and in need of medical care. They will be rescued as soon as new night dens have been built for them at the sanctuaries.

Alan Knight concludes: “It’s hard to be patient when we know animals are suffering. But we are more determined than ever to rescue all the remaining bears, and 2009 is the year in which we intend to do it.
“This Christmas we’ll be celebrating our success so far, but we won’t forget the bears still in need of our help. By this time next year I hope we’ll be having a huge celebration because all the dancing bears in India are safely in our care.”

For further information and images contact Laurence Van Atten, IAR at (508)826-1083

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