Police raids clamp down on bear cub trade

14 Feb, 2005
Karnataka, India

Five sloth bear cubs have been rescued during the past week in police raids in the city of Hubli. The actions follow a three-month undercover operation by One Voice and Wildlife SOS, which also led to the arrest of seven suspected animal traffickers.

The cubs, which are aged between three and five weeks were taken from the wild in forested regions in the surrounding districts of the city. Their captors had aimed to sell them for use as dancing bears. After a court hearing on Saturday, the accused were charged with offences under the Wildlife Protection Act and face a maximum prison sentence of seven years if found guilty at trial. The five cubs, one female and four males, were given to the Karnataka Forest Department, who, in turn, handed them over to Wildlife SOS and One Voice for relocation to the group’s Bear Rescue Facility near Agra in the North of India. Sloth bears are found in the wild throughout India and although no comprehensive survey of their population numbers have been compiled, One Voice estimates that between 5,000-6,000 survive in the wild. Additionally, there are approximately one thousand captive sloth bears in the country, held by Kalandars, a nomadic gypsy community who use them in street entertainment. These ‘dancing bears’ are tamed at a young age to be obedient to their masters. Their incisor teeth are pulled out, their claws are cropped and a chain or rope is pieced through their nose and lip to keep them subdued. Previous investigations by Wildlife SOS and One Voice reveal that all these captive bears were illegally captured from the wild at just a few weeks old. Hunters, operating in remote tribal areas, locate the mother’s den and
usually remove the cubs when she is out searching for food. If the mother returns and attempts to defend her cubs, she will be killed. “This is the second year in a row we have infiltrated gangs capturing and selling bear cubs,” said Kartick Satyanarayan who heads Wildlife SOS. “Year by year we are breaking a trade which has decimated India’s wild sloth bear population and consigned these magnificent animals to a
live of misery.” One of the rescued cubs, estimated to be three weeks old, is barely larger than a new-born puppy and sucks constantly on the hands veterinarian Dr Kajal Jadav who is in charge of their care. “We have never seen one this tiny before; it must have been taken from its mother only a few days before the police raid,” said Dr Jadav. At the Agra Bear Rescue Facility the new arrivals have joined 70 other refugees from the dancing bear trade. Most bears are adults that have been surrendered voluntarily by Kalanders in return for support with retraining so they can establish new livelihoods. Seven cubs, seized in police raids in January 2004 are now a year old and already as strong as a grown man. For the next three months, the five new arrivals will be fed a diet of enriched kitten milk, a preparation which most closely matches the milk of mother bears. The cubs will most likely live out their entire lives at the centre, sharing a series of electrically fenced natural enclosure with other compatible sloth bears. The project also hopes that in future years newly rescued cubs could be released back to the wild in protected reserves. These anti-poaching investigations are carried out under the name of Forest Watch! The investigation extends over five Indian states and utilises a network of undercover agents tracking hunters and dealers in known hotspots. One Voice funds the full costs of the operation. Muriel Arnal, its President said, “the sloth bear anti-poaching unit is the front line of wildlife protection; that’s why we support it. Its mission is crucial if India’s bears are to be saved.”

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