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In India… bears are condemned to slavery

Over 1,200 sloth bears are tortured by members of the Kalandars clan who force them to "dance" to entertain tourists. This barbaric practice, a throwback to a sixteenth-century tradition, condemns the bears to a life of pain and terror. And yet in 1972 India voted the Wildlife Protection Act to protect wild animals and ban the selling of bears and parts of their body. A second law outlawed the methods that are used to train the bears.

The photographer Pierre Meunié carried out an investigation in India for One Voice. He recently returned with photos and videos that have enabled us to evaluate the situation. These will be diffused in the media.

Opening a sanctuary will enable us to save bears and cubs. One Voice will help run the sanctuary and spearhead a campaign to put an end to "dancing bears" once and for all.

The situation today

Deadly capture

The poachers wait until the she-bear leaves the den in search of food to capture a new-born cub. She-bears who try to defend their cubs pay with their life. The cub is transported for hours in a bag, drugged with opium to ward off hunger and stifle its cries of distress. Many of the cubs die during this ordeal.

Barbaric training

Those that survive are sold to the Kalandars. At the age of three months, before being forced to perform on the roadside and in front of hotels, the already traumatised cub must endure further torture. A red-hot iron rod is used to pierce the bear's sensitive muzzle. A thick rope is then inserted through this hole and out of the bear's mouth. This barbaric mutilation is performed without anaesthetic.

Tortured to the beat of the drum

The rope is a torture instrument, used to control the bear. The only way the bear can attempt to relieve the pain it feels when the trainer tugs on the rope is to stand on its hind legs and perform whatever movements its torturer demands. Inevitably, the nose wound becomes infected.

The trainer strikes the cub on its nose wound and on its paws. The cub reacts by lifting its paws in order to avoid the blows. Through pain and terror, the bear learns to move from one paw to the other to the sound of a beating drum. Over 70% of the captured cubs die before the age of three months, destroyed by the brutal separation from their mother, and the subsequent mutilations inflicted on them. For cubs that manage to survive to the age of two, the Kalandars wrench out their teeth using a hammer and rod (again with no anaesthetic) and break the bear's bottom jaw.

The long road to suffering

During the stifling hot summer months, the bear is forced to walk 20 to 30 kilometres a day along the roads of Agra, Jaipur and New Delhi, from one village to the next. Its paws are covered in wounds. The bear with its owner waits hours on the roadside. Often it spends ten hours a day with no rest, entertaining the crowds, surrounded by noise and dust.

Children taunt the bear, while tourists climb on its back. Sooner or later hunger, torture and disease take their toll: the bear will die before it is eight years old, when in its natural habitat it could have lived to thirty.

Action by One Voice

Rescue the bears

Bears and cubs will be saved. One Voice has joined a partnership with the government of the province of Utta Pradesh in the Agra region, where most of the bears are, and Wildlife SOS, an Indian animal rights organisation, to run a sanctuary that will open in November, 20 kilometres from Agra. The bears will either be handed over voluntarily by the Kalandars, or will be confiscated by the police. The Kalandars will be offered help in finding an alternative way to make a living, financed by a British organisation. One Voice and its partners will ensure that no Kalandar takes on another bear. The ultimate goal is that dancing bears should become a thing of the past in India.

Inform tourists

The Indian population is horrified by the barbaric treatment that the Kalandars inflict on the bears, in complete violation of Indian law. This practice continues because tourists pay to see the bears "dance."

We are currently in contact with French travel agencies that organise trips to India. We explain the bears' suffering and the illegal nature of these "performances" and ask them to share this information with their customers. Tourists must stop giving money to the Kalandars who dance bears.

Negotiations with Air India

We are also negotiating with Air India to feature information in their in-flight magazine and to display posters in New Delhi airport, from where flights are operated to all the regions in which "dancing bears" are shown. We are well aware that long-term success can only be achieved through determination and with sufficient money to inform tourists and run the bear sanctuaries.

There is hope, thanks to your donations. This is why One Voice is committed to this joint action. Some of you recently responded to our appeal to save the bears. Thanks to you we have had leaflets printed, launched investigations, and drawn up a report on the current situation of bears in China, India and Pakistan.

Your donations have also financed a lorry that will travel around India, a huge country, to transport bears to the sanctuary. We still need to purchase medical equipment to treat these traumatised animals.

Muriel Arnal will shortly be travelling to India. She and representatives of Wildlife SOS will meet with the Utta Pradesh government to prepare for the arrival of the first rescued bears.

As with AAF in China, our partnership guarantees that all money will be used to save the bears. The situation is most urgent in Agra as this is where Kalanders from India and Pakistan most frequently use bears to beg money during the tourist season.

In Pakistan… bears are prey

The scenario is the same as in India: poachers capture cubs in the wild and sell them to the same clan, the Kalandars, who mutilate the bears in preparation for bloody events that in theory were banned in 1998. Thousands of spectators gather to see bears tied to a stake as defenceless prey. Their teeth and claws have been viciously removed and their muzzle painfully pierced and a ring inserted. A massacre ensues, during which the bears must face repeated onslaughts from dogs that have been trained to attack.

The seriously injured bears must endure this torture three time a day, several times a year.

The political situation in Pakistan makes any direct intervention extremely difficult. One Voice is currently concentrating on ending bear baiting by Kalandars in India, which ultimately should have positive repercussions among the Kalandar community in Pakistan.

What you can do

• Distribute leaflets and gather signatures to save the bears in China, India and Pakistan.

• If you know any travel agents, take them a copy of our leaflet on Indian "dancing bears", explain the illegal and immoral nature of these performances, and ask them to pass this essential information on to their customers.

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