Bear dancing, a cruel tradition that enjoyed a long stint in Nepal, has finally come to an end with the rescue of its last two bears.
Dancing bears spend a life in ropes and chains.
Training the members of various bear species to dance for an audience has been a popular form of entertainment in Europe and Asia, starting from the Middle Ages. World Animal Protection says that the practice persisted in Eastern Europe and some parts of Asia well into the late 20th century. However, animal welfare groups have been working to purge the world of this practice altogether. Countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Turkey have ended the practice, and now Nepal has likely joined this list. Pakistan, however, has yet to end do the same thing.
In Nepal in particular, dancing bears are taken from the wild as cubs, with their mothers killed for the bile in their gall bladders or for their paws, which are used in traditional medicine.
The practice of keeping dancing bears is at an end in Nepal. [Photo by Neil D'Cruze, World Animal Protection]
The cubs are then sold on the black market. These cubs, once bought, go through cruel training methods designed to subdue them. Sloth bears in particular are known to be aggressive, which means that their training process is probably crueler, more violent, and more traumatizing. Some owners remove the bears’ claws, as well as file down or remove canines, to prevent injury to themselves.
“There’s a constant use of fear and pain and aggression toward the animals,” says Jane Goodall Institute Nepal executive director Manoj Gautam.
Rangila and Sridevi are in their late teens, and spent an unknown amount of time enduring cruel treatment.
The last two bears rescued from a life of cruel treatment for the sake of human entertainment were sloth bears. Rangila is a 19-year-old male, and Sridevi is a 17-year-old female. Their owners removed their teeth, pierced their noses with a hot rod, and threaded a rope through the piercing as a means to control the bears. Rangila and Sridevi were kept tied up and chained, though it is unknown how long they were kept in captivity.
According to World Animal Protection, the organization that facilitated the rescue along with Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Nepalese police helped them track the Rangila and Sridevi’s owners down. The owners had vanished from their last known location and were nowhere to be found, but the police were able to trace the owners’ phone numbers to pinpoint their present location.
The bears' former owners signed an agreement stating that if they were ever caught handling a bear again, they would face harsher consequences. [Photo by Neil D'Cruze, World Animal Protection]
Finally, the police were able to confiscate the bears and take their owners into custody. The owners weren’t charged or fined, but were given a stern warning.
The bears, meanwhile, were obviously traumatized. “The bears were extremely distressed and showed signs of psychological trauma such as cowering, pacing and paw sucking,” World Animal Protection said. Even so, the bears were in decent health, in spite of the fact that they’ve lived only on rice and milk for years.
Both bears are presently living at a Nepalese national park, though they’ll eventually be transferred to an animal sanctuary in India. Two of the former owners were hired at the park, since helping former owners transition to new jobs is part of the rescue process.
“[T]his is an incredible way to end 2017,” said World Animal Protection in a statement.
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