The Indian Sloth Bear (Melursus Ursinus) can easily be recognized by his shaggy black coat, long muzzle, protruding lip and by a white V-shaped patch on the chest. His diet consists of fruits, berries, grasses, flowers, honey, insect larvae and other insects. He has a particular proclivity to “vacuum” up termites and ants using his long snout.
For over 400 years, the Sloth Bear had been a target for human exploitation. A nomadic tribe known as the Kalandars began ‘dancing’ sloth bears for the emperors during the Mughal era. Over centuries, as the kingdoms in India disappeared, the ‘dancing’ bear trade transitioned to become entertainment for villagers and tourists who paid to watch the bears jump in agony.
Mother bears were killed so that poachers could take and sell their cubs in perpetuation of this brutal practice. Through underground trading the cubs as many as 200 annually would end up in the hands of the Kalandars. With no anesthesia, a red hot poker rod would be driven through the muzzle of the baby bear, often at the tender age of six months. A rope would then be strung through the painful piercing, and tugged to induce ‘dancing’ performances on demand; for many bears a life at the end of a rope would be all they would ever know.
As of 1996, our research indicated that there were more than 1200 ‘dancing’ bears scattered throughout the country. With cooperation from Government officials, and the help of our partner organizations International Animal Rescue, One Voice, Free The Bears, and others Wildlife SOS has been able to rescue and rehabilitate over 620 dancing bears. They are now living peacefully in four large natural sanctuaries across India, enjoying a life where they’ll never again have to endure such cruelty and pain.
In December 2009 we rescued what we believe was the last ‘dancing’ bear in India. Click here to read more about the historic moment.
Despite this joyous success, it is still critical that our anti-poaching efforts continue. Even with minimal demand for ‘dancing’ bears, Sloth Bear cubs are still being poached for use in Chinese medicines and gourmet cuisine in South-East Asia. This ongoing poaching, combined with habitat encroachment, continues to pose a serious threat to an already depleting population in the Indian Sub-Continent. Wildlife SOS has in the last decade successfully carried out many rescue operations in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, where these bears are often found injured in snare traps or with bullet shots by poachers. Read more about our recent rescue operations here.