India’s ‘dancing bears’ retire in animal rights victory
India’s ‘dancing bears’ retire in animal rights victory
The tradition of forcing sloth bears to dance for entertainment dates back to the 13th century, when trainers belonging to the Muslim Kalandar tribe enjoyed royal patronage and performed before the rich and powerful.
Descendants of the tribe from central India had kept the tradition alive, buying bear cubs from poachers for about 1,200 rupees ($ 22) and then hammering a heated iron rod through their sensitive snouts.
After removing the animal’s teeth and claws, the bear trainer threaded a rope through its snout and then headed for the streets where onlookers would pay a few rupees for a show in which the bear would sway and jump around.
“It’s taken us many years but all the tribesmen we keep track of have moved on to different livelihoods,” Vivek Menon from the non-profit Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), told AFP on the sidelines of a bear conference in New Delhi last week.
“The tradition might still be present in people’s minds, of course, but we don’t know of any cases where Kalandars are still practizing it.”
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and India-based Wildlife SOS, which runs sanctuaries for bears, have also declared an end to the practice in the last few months — 40 years after a government ban in 1972.
The key, say the donation-funded groups, has been bringing the Kalandars on board, providing them with money and incentives to re-train in other professions. The success points the way for other campaigns, such as the one to rid India of its snake charmers who can still be spotted illegally plying their trade, often with the snakes’ mouths sewn shut. “It was very difficult to convince the bear trainers to give up their work. Most of them were very scared, they have never known any other way of life but this,” WSPA campaign coordinator Aniruddha Mookerjee told AFP.
One of the owners to give up was Mohammed Afsar Khan, a 30-year-old father of three girls who used to work with his father and brother traveling across central India with three bears in tow.
He says he used to earn about 300 rupees a day until he gave up the job six years ago.
“It’s a hard life. You can never settle in one place, your children can’t go to school, you end up feeling trapped. Then you are always worried about police harassing you for bribes,” he said.
He handed over his bears to Wildlife Trust of India officers, who offered his family financial assistance and helped him and his younger brother learn driving skills.
He used the funds to rent a tractor and ferry bricks from kilns to construction sites in Chhattisgarh state. Today, he owns his tractor and earns about 500 rupees a day.
The bears recovered by the animal groups were often in a wretched state, suffering from infected snouts, root canal problems, even diseases such as tuberculosis which they contracted from humans.
The sloth bears also suffer from malnutrition after being fed bread, lentils and milk for years, leading to an extremely reduced life span.
Menon from WTI say that the dancing bear industry was also “a dominant cause behind the disappearance of the sloth bear” — a focus at the bear conference which focused on conservation and welfare. In the last three decades, the number of sloth bears — a species native to South Asia — has fallen by at least 30 percent, according to the IUCN-SSC Bear Specialist Group (BSG). There are now less than 20,000 of them.
“The widespread poaching of bear cubs and the killing of mother bears clearly affects the population of the species,” Menon told AFP.
“India is changing rapidly and this is an outmoded, inhumane tradition. The trainers themselves realize now that it is far easier for them to earn a living doing other jobs,” Menon said.
Aziz Khan is another former bear-owner who never expected to leave his ancestral trade but was happy for the way out offered by WTI when officers approached him and his friends more than a decade ago.
“I didn’t earn much, but I was afraid to leave it. I didn’t know how else I would be able to feed my three kids,” the 45-year-old told AFP.
WTI helped retrain Aziz Khan and his friends as bakers. They now run their own bakery, producing 350 loaves of bread each day.
“I have no regrets today, it was a dead-end job and I am glad I was able to move on,” he said.
Golden Globe Race seek to rescue injured Indian sailor
- The Australian Joint Rescue Co-ordination Center is working hard to assess and coordinate all possible options to rescue Abhilas Tomy
PARIS: The organizers of the round-the-world Golden Globe Race said Saturday they were scrambling to rescue missing Indian sailor Abhilash Tomy, but admitted he was “as far from help as you can possibly be.”
Tomy’s yacht Thuriya had its mast broken off when it was rolled in a storm on Friday and the yachtsman suffered what he called “a severe back injury.”
The organizers described him as “incapacitated on his bunk inside his boat” and his yacht is 2,000 miles (3,704 kilometers) off the coast of Perth, Western Australia.
On Saturday, he managed to send a message saying: “Extremely difficult to walk, Might need stretcher, can’t walk, thanks safe inside the boat... Sat phone down.”
The organizers said on the race website: “The Australian Joint Rescue Co-ordination Center is working hard to assess and coordinate all possible options to rescue Abhilas Tomy who is as far from help as you can possibly be.”
Tomy, a 39-year-old commander in the Indian navy, is able to communicate using a YB3 texting unit but his primary satellite phone is damaged.
He has a second satellite phone and a handheld VHF radio packed in an emergency bag, but organizers said he was unable to reach it for the moment.
The organizers said they had urged him to try to get to the bag because it could be crucial in making contact with a plane from Australia and an Indian air force plane which might be able to fly over the area.
Given the distance from land, the planes will not be able to spend long in the area, the organizers added.
A French fishing boat was also heading to the scene “but may not arrive for a few days.”
The Golden Globe Race involves a gruelling 30,000-mile solo circumnavigation of the globe in yachts similar to those used in the first race 50 years ago, with no modern technology allowed except the communication equipment.
Tomy’s own yacht is a replica of Robin Knox-Johnston’s Suhail, winner of the first Golden Globe Race.