BENGALURU: Tortured and forced to dance on the streets, for many bears a life at the end of a rope was all they ever knew. But today, 90 per cent of dancing bears have been rescued and rehabilitated in Karnataka and other parts of the country. They are living in four large natural sanctuaries across the country, enjoying a life where they’ll never again have to endure such cruelty.
A majority of rescued bears have a home at the sloth bear conservation project at Bannerghatta Biological Park, Bengaluru.
The project is run by Wildlife SOS in collaboration with the Zoo Authority of Karnataka and the state forest department. Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre has 78 rescued bears —32 male and 46 female—apart from five wild bears.
Most of these bears are in the last leg of their lives. The centre also sees four to five bear deaths every year. But in their last few years, the bears receive loving care while living amid the lush green and rocky terrain of Bannerghatta.
Housed in clean and healthy surroundings, each bear has its own enclosure and a caretaker. The centre also houses a well-equipped veterinary clinic and a team of experienced veterinary doctors to ensure round-the-clock care.
A Different Life
Each bear has been given a name and a microchip is attached to it for identification. A school attendance system is followed to keep track of the bears. They are always under observation, be it while busy finding an anthill or taking a nap.
Most bears have adjusted to this life, which is dramatically different from the life they once led with their Kalandars (nomadic community), roaming from town to town and entertaining people.
Dr Arun A Sha, director of Veterinary Research and Operations at the centre, says, “Our rescue project also includes the Kalandars. We have rehabilitated nine of them so far. We need to rehabilitate these families too, otherwise it is not possible to stop the practice. We have a lot of undercover informers who help us track dancing bears and rescue the cubs.”
The bears have lost all characteristics of wild behaviour. Though most animals have adjusted to this life, long-term close contact with humans has left most of them in poor health and many even suffer tuberculosis, he added.
Each bear undergoes a master health check-up once in three months, including ultrasound, ECG and X-ray, and blood and urine tests.
They are checked for obesity and their diet is changed accordingly. The bears have a nutritious diet of porridge, honey, fruits and supplements for proteins, vitamins and calcium. Caregiver G P Prakash says, “They are fed twice a day. One of the bears, Gayatri, gets her daily quota of milk.”
The bear kitchen is sparkling clean. For the 4pm meal, 600-700 litres of jowar porridge is being cooked along with sorghum flour, ragi and soya bean. Each portion to a bear is weighed as per their nutritional needs. The cost of food per bear is `300 per day. Each bear consumes six to seven litres of porridge daily
The keepers maintain a daily register, making observations. The Jambhava enclosure has 20 bears, which are looked after by Prakash and Babu. The duo has been taking care of animals here for 14 years. “They recognise us. We hug them, we play with them and if we call them, they respond,” Babu says.
Keeping Them Active
To ensure they burn enough calories, the keepers have developed structures for the bears to play and learn the ways of the wild. Fruits, enrichment (structural designs) and wood props are used to give them an active life. Activity creation includes wood or coir ropes and breakable structures on which they play.
Across the 80-acre safari area in Bannerghatta, fruits are placed at various points so that bears learn to find and eat them.
Dr Sha adds, “Some volunteers have helped build hammocks and climbing frames for the bears. Since bears love climbing, we build a lot of climbing enrichment for them. Our keepers also hide groundnuts in the ground, fruits on trees and rub honey on specific objects to help the bears improve their senses.”
All the male bears are castrated as breeding is not allowed but males and females are kept together.