The Sloth Bear's Tale: Dancing no more

From www.ironammonite.com

In the summer of 2009 I visited Wildlife SOS as part of 'Chasing the Monsoon', to learn about the plight of India's dancing bears. My first stop was the Daroji bear sanctuary in Hampi. Here I met Samad Kottur, a local science teacher, who works to protect and rescue Sloth Bears.
Filmed by David Heath, directed by Kalyan Varma, Production Manager Mandanna Dilan.

From my blog of 25th July 2009:
"Most of the sloth bears Samad has rescued have been from the brutal art of bear dancing - a traditional livelihood which has been practiced in rural India for centuries but which has been illegal since the wildlife protection act of 1972. Yet until very recently during the breeding season bear poachers would wait outside a den for the mother to leave in search of food for her young. They would swoop in, grab and bag the young cubs and sell them for less than 30,000 rupees (about 350 pounds) to Kollanders, the traditional bear dancing community. 'Here they begin a life of pain and discomfort.' Sammad told me, 'After a few months their canines are ripped out, their claws are clipped, males are castrated and a red hot iron is used to pierce their sensitive nuzzle through which a coarse rope is threaded.' it is the pain of pulling on this rope that makes them dance as they are dragged from village to village and made to perform, standing on their hind legs and used as puppets on a string. All the while enduring severe pain and punishment. 'they are severely malnourished and are only given the very poorest food to survive on' says Sammad with a tear in his eye 'when we rescue them they are in really bad shape'." Read more.

Seeing wild bears at Daroji made my subsequent trip to the Bannerghata Bear Rescue Centre even more heart-wrenching. Here I was introduced to some of the resident bears, and showed the strict daily routines that the vets and carers go through to ensure that these beautiful animals live out the rest of their days, trouble free and as healthy as can be. To see the drastic and devastating effect that 'dancing' has had on Sloth Bears is something that will stay with me for a long time.

Wildlife SOS have informed us that as of 2009, all the remaining dancing bears have been rescued and are now being cared for at rescue centres across India. To help support their continuing work, and ensure that these rescued bears can be cared for, please visit www.wildlifesos.org

For more on Sloth Bears from our 'Chasing the Monsoon' expedition click here.

Dancing bear with rope through his muzzle. Photograph by Troy Snow (used with permission)


  1. Thank you Paul. You have really top writing and a very professional and good style on camera. I always enjoyed your filming. Pls keep making films on India ;-)

  2. Anonymous1:30 PM

    Another great film. An important message to tell people and very pleasing news that all the bears have been rescued. Santesh.

  3. My god. How on earth did you stop yourself from finding the culprits and punching them? You're a better person than me. :'(

  4. I guess the truth is that it's a vicious circle that has lasted well over 400 years. If all of a sudden your family buisiness was outlawed and declared unethical (as dancing bears was in 1972) you would be faced with difficult choice - continue illegally or try and find other work, which doesnt pay as much and for which you have no experience or skills. A difficult dilemma when you have a family to feed. Thankfully the conservation groups have worked out a way to emply the Kollanders to be actively involved in the conservation and care efforts, and thus put an end to the 'Indian dancing bears', hopefully forever.

  5. Yes, I guess that's the crux of it - how to convince people there are less damaging ways of using natural resources to benefit their communities. I guess I have to keeping checking myself because I forget that I'm in a privileged person in western society and as such I fail to understand why people don't just automatically feel horrified by the idea of making another living soul suffer like that.