International Animal Rescue - Savior of India’s Dancing Bears   
International Animal Rescue - Savior of India’s Dancing Bears  
The images in the following program are highly sensitive and may be as disturbing to viewers as they were to us. However, we have to show the truth about cruelty to animals, praying that you will help to stop it.

This is Supreme Master Television’s Stop Animal Cruelty series. The non-profit organization International Animal Rescue was established in September 1989 and has branches in the UK, India, the US, the Netherlands, Indonesia and Malta.

International Animal Rescue aids suffering animals around the world by saving them from dire situations and re-homing them in caring sanctuaries or back into their natural environments, depending on their fitness. Being an advocacy group for animals, International Animal Rescue and its members support the adoption of a wise, compassionate vegetarian way of life. For their benevolent work, the organization received the Shining World Compassion Award from Supreme Master Ching Hai.

Today we examine the dancing bear trade in India, an industry that International Animal Rescue and other groups have now effectively shut down. Dancing bears are Sloth bears, a species whom for centuries have suffered harsh mistreatment at the hands of humans.

Mothers normally have one cub. It’s normally inside a den, which could be a cave. And unfortunately, wherever animals tend to be useful to humans, humans tend to want to exploit them. And in particular we’ve had a real problem in India where for 300 years, the Kalandar (people) have been dancing bears in order to earn money.

And originally they did it for the Mughal Emperors, where they would go into the courts of the Mughal Emperors and it would be an entertainment. And that quickly turned into superstition where they’d go into villages and people would take hairs from the bear or have their children ride on the back of the bear.

In the modern era Sloth bears were trained to imitate Bollywood dances or do other types of performances to earn money for those who imprisoned them. India outlawed dancing bear performances in 1972; however, many wild bears continued to be captured, whipped and forced to dance because of tourists from abroad patronizing these events. The trend of an increasing number of visitors to India meant this cruel form of so-called “entertainment” spread to all parts of the country.

In 2010, after seven years of tireless work by International Animal Rescue and the India-based non-profit organization Wildlife S.O.S., dancing bears were no longer found on the streets of India. Poaching has dropped dramatically as well with International Animal Rescue now estimating that nationwide only two to three bears are poached a year. How did this savage industry operate?

First, poachers would snatch a cub who was just a few weeks of age from their mother, who typically died trying to fight off their baby’s captors. Having their mother murdered was only the beginning of the cub’s tragic life. The extremely frightened baby was typically sold to the Kalandar people. But before reaching the buyers’ villages, most cubs would die of dehydration, hunger or injury. In fact 60 to 70% did not survive this transit stage.

The way dancing bears began their so-called “training” was horrendous. Their captors would shut the helpless youngsters in dark, upside-down baskets without food, water or contact to make the cubs submissive to their orders.

In order to control the bear, they had to do certain things to try to subdue them. And unfortunately that involved knocking their teeth out, which they do with an iron bar and they’re knocked out at the gum level so the roots are still inside the mouth. So that means that you have four canine teeth roots causing terrible pain. They also put a red hot poker through the muzzle, so that’s at the top of the nose, right on the bridge here.

And then they put a rope through that hole and that comes down and out through the mouth, and up over the top of the head. And we’re in a situation there where by pulling that rope it hurts them. So we have a situation where everything that those people want the animal to do, they do through inflicting pain on the animal.

The process of “teaching” the bear to dance was utterly inhumane. Torturous practices used by captors included making the cubs stand on scorching hot coals to force them to stand upright. The trainers also beat the cubs’ feet, so that the bears would lift them to avoid the pain. After a certain amount of this harrowing abuse, the cubs automatically lifted their feet as soon as they heard the trainers hit the ground.

I’ve learned over the last 35 years of working in this area that animals only do things because they’re abused or hurt and are made to do them. Very, very rarely does an animal do something to please you; they will do it when you beat them.

And these animals are trained to play the guitar, to smoke fictitious cigarettes, to jump up and down on their hind legs and generally do all these demeaning things that we really don’t want to see.

When dancing bear cubs became adults, the trainers used even more vicious force, employing sticks to hit them in the faces and bodies to control them. In terms of diet, most of those who formerly danced bears for a living were not well off, so they couldn’t afford to give the bears anything healthy to eat. Due to severe malnutrition and the constant physical and emotional trauma, many of the bears frequently contracted pneumonia, shed their fur and/or became cataract-stricken.

And in order to subdue them when they’re out dancing on the streets, they’re fed really cheap alcohol. So again their health is reduced because the liver becomes compromised because obviously the liver function with a lot of alcohol is reduced. So, all in all, these animals are in pretty dire condition. Add to that the lack of proper food and the fact that they live on scraps, generally these bears have a really sad life.

Veterinary care was typically non-existent as the captors could not afford it even if they did wish to spend money to heal a sick bear. Statistics tell us that in the first year following their imprisonment, 40% of dancing bears cubs died from the torture they experienced and very few bears lived longer than seven or eight years. By contrast, the average life span of Sloth bears in the wild is up to 30 years.

So by constant beating and constant abuse, these animals do become mentally traumatized. And this represents itself as stereotypical behavior, where you’ll see the constant jogging backwards and forwards or rocking backwards and forwards. And this is a sign that the animal’s bored and has got a mental problem. It is doing this stereotypical repeating of the same movements all the time, which is very, very disturbing to see.

Fortunately dancing bears are now a thing of the past in India, however that does not mean the bears are out of danger.

The circle’s been broken so the poaching has now stopped as well. I’m not saying that it’s absolutely stopped 100%, because there’s still markets for bears. There are bear parts which go into medicines like the paws, and there’s bear paw soup which people drink. And they’re still being used.

There’s also bear baiting (dogs fighting bears) up in Pakistan. So some bears will find their way up there through these illegal channels. So we have to be vigilant and we have to keep the patrols going; we have to keep investigators and informers in the marketplace so that we’re in a position where we could be ready to strike and make sure these bears aren’t abused. They go out into the countryside and they find out by being with Kalandar people who’s got these animals for sale.

And we very often set up a sting where we will pose as traders and that we want to buy these animals. And when they come to sell them to us, we’ll arrive with the police and we’ll seize the animals and arrest the people. So we don’t do any trade with them whatsoever. They’re arrested. Some of them have gone to prison for seven years under the Animal Welfare Act.

A continuing threat to the Sloth bears is a rapidly shrinking natural habitat.

The land is reducing where they could live. When you have 1.2 billion people in the country, you’re in a situation where you’re already finding it hard to find places to live, so the wild areas are becoming reduced, and the encroachment of humans onto the bears’ territory is always increasing. So it’s a real problem to try and find areas that can be protected, and that’s an area that we’re pushing now.

Over the years International Animal Rescue has saved 600 dancing bears from the streets of India. The group has two sanctuaries to rehabilitate and re-home these gentle bears, one in Northern India in Agra and another near Bangalore in Southern India.

And we have over 250 acres throughout India, not all in the same place, but certainly areas of 50 acres where they can roam free. But they do tend to get together in groups, and they do play with each other, rolling over, generally jumping on each other, the younger ones love it. We do have organized feeding; I was on one maybe two, three months ago. And we went out with a Land Rover into the enclosure, and we had lots of watermelons and they love it.

Here are some closing thoughts from Mr. Knight about dancing bears.

Finishing the dancing bear trade was obviously something that we were passionate about. And I’m delighted to have done that within seven years of starting the project. But of course that’s the first phase, and the most important phase, I think, because we’ve stopped the suffering of the animals on the streets. We’ve now got probably 20 to 30 years of looking after these wonderful bears.

We are deeply grateful, Mr. Alan Knight and International Animal Rescue as well as Wildlife S.O.S. for ending the dancing bear industry in India and safeguarding other beautiful animals on Earth. May your magnificent missions of animal protection always be blessed by Heaven.

For more details on International Animal Rescue, please visit
To learn more about Wildlife S.O.S., please visit

Thank you for your company on today’s program. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment, after Noteworthy News. May all animals forever enjoy peaceful and happy lives.
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