Sloth Bears & Ending the 'Dancing Bear' Tradition

Photo Credit: Chicago Zoological Society

I recently led a group of seven animal care professionals from all over the United States on a ten-day trip to India. The main focus was visiting both Bandhavgarh and Kanha National Parks. After our safaris, where one jeep was lucky enough to see a sloth bear crossing the forest, we finished the trip in Agra at the Wildlife SOS Sloth Bear Rescue. Brookfield Zoo supports this conservation organization and their founders have visited more than once to discuss their conservation efforts.

We were given a brief history of the “dancing bear” practice that had formerly been used by Kalandar people to support their families. In 1972, this act was officially made illegal, but it has taken decades for the practice to be ended. In 1995, Wildlife SOS was established and began rescuing bears. To date, over 600 bears have been rescued, and the “dancing bear” practice has been eradicated in India. This was accomplished by Wildlife SOS aiding the Kalandar people by establishing funding for schools, mobile medical clinics, and vocational training for women. 

Photo Credit: Brian Czarnik

We walked through the wooded trails and observed several sloth bears in their spacious outdoor enclosures. The enclosures included platforms, as well as many hiding areas to give the bears several habitat choices. We toured the bears’ indoor night houses and met many of the interns and caretakers. After a tour of the facility, we exchanged information with their staff on everything from enrichment, cleaning protocols, and diets. As we toured their medical facility, a veterinarian in my group discussed various medical equipment with their veterinary staff. I was glad to be able to provide a platform for animal care specialists to get together with so many ideas and information being discussed.

Photo Credit: Brian Czarnik

The Wildlife SOS center in Agra operates an elephant rescue center as well. Along with taking excellent care of the animals, care staff relocates wildlife, like venomous snakes, from human-populated areas in over nine states in India. This organization strives to eliminate human-predator conflict, which has become common with Asiatic black bears and leopards, by offering educational workshops.

It was a day that none of us will forget and the passion we have as animal care specialists have been strengthened and taken home to further our knowledge about Sloth Bears in the wild and the successful efforts made in ending the “dancing bear” practice in India. 

Written by Brian Czarnik, Senior Keeper Large Carnivores, Chicago Zoological Society

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Posted: 11/13/2019 3:34:27 PM by Sean Keeley

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