By Steffi Joseph
“And there’s always a way to begin with.”-Autumn Doughton
In our attempt to solve the problem of ‘Dancing Bears’ in India, we worked with an approach that would not only free the bears from their cruel owners but also would provide a different life to the Kalandars. We needed to stop the use of sloth bears from being taken from the wild and used for entertainment. We understood that in order to do that we needed a holistic programme. Something that addressed the poverty of the Kalandar tribe and ensured the conservation of sloth bears in the wild. The Kalandar families were living from hand to mouth and the bears were their only source of income. In many cases Wildlife SOS provided jobs to the Kalandar people at the rescue centers for bears, for others we tried to provide an alternate livelihood.
One such example is of Shakir Kalandar, who now has a changed life. Shakhir is a 22 year old that lives in a village called Korai in Uttar Pradesh. His grandparents used to dance bears until they surrendered their bears to Wildlife SOS.
In 2011, Shakir met with an accident that stopped the flow of blood in his left hand. His nerves were damaged from the shoulder joint which made it impossible for him to do any kind of work with it. “It was such a traumatic situation for me, I had a family to support and I was not able to get a job.” Shakir tried to work as a laboror at a construction site after surrendering his bear. “After the accident, everywhere I went for a job they rejected me because of my hand. I went through a major crisis for over two years that included starvation and poverty,” he added.
Shakir approached Wildlife SOS expecting to be freed from his wretched situation. After being assured by Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, he was optimistic about a new life. Shakir expressed, “Geeta ma’am assured me that Wildlife SOS will help and support me. In the next few days a team from the NGO came to my house and sponsored a small grocery shop for me worth Rs 7500. I am grateful to the organization for understanding my pain and taking immediate action to help me.”
Now Shakir runs a small grocery shop in his village where he caters to the daily needs of his community and he is able to earn an approximate income of Rs. 3000 per month. This income is utilized to run his house and take care of his health necessities. The economic empowerment of the Kalandar man will provide him with a dignified life and help him feed his family.