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Published: December 27th 2007
5/27/08: Just an update on the Dancing Bear rescue project that is run by Wildlife SOS. They currently have rescued over 475 bears and the bears are said to be quite hungry! Please consider donating to support the care of the bears now rescued, and to support the efforts that this great organization is doing.
12/26/07: Entry prior to leaving: After Delhi, my next destination is the city of Agra. Known for the Great Taj Mahal, which is a monument inspired by Love, this is also listed in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die
. I plan on visiting the Taj during the sunset. Reportedly, the best times to visit are in the morning or evening, as the light is said to play nicely against all the white marble. However, my main reason to visit Agra is to see the passionate work that the organization Wildlife SOS is doing for the so called "Dancing Bears of India." There is an excellent website (www.wildlifesos.org) about these bears, the sanctuary in Agra, and the other animals (such as elephants) that they are helping. As I learned through a little research, these bears are not dancing on their
free will. They are forced by adverting pain to stand up and make swaying movements, due to the large rings and ropes inserted into their snouts. These are sloth bears and very cute when they are young. Although this practice has been illegal since 1972, it has not stopped. The Qalandars (also known as Gypsies) continue to try to make a living by poaching the mothers to steal the babies. The life of a "dancing bear" is full of suffering, and begins when they are taken from their mothers and gets worse from there when the rings and ropes are inserted into their snouts. By being aware of the plight of the sloth bears in India, it is my hope that we will also think twice about the bears performing in circuses around the world. More to come regarding this.
Well here is the update:
Tuesday 15th of January, I made it to the Agra Bear Sanctuary in Agra today, which was very good and awe inspiring regarding the conscientious work Wildlife S.O.S. and other organizations are doing. It was interesting to learn about why this and the other bear sanctuaries are so
The Ambassador they call him. He has been free for the past 5 years and has made himself at home in the sun usually, and has high ranking with his other bears. He was the official greeter.
important, as the zoos had no interest in taking in a used, scarred and traumatized sloth bear. Well, if they did, the inspiration for this heart-touching operation would not have come to be. A life in a sanctuary is always better than a zoo, as this is a place of peace and a supportive place to promote normalization of their lives. You will notice from my photographs and also lack of them, that the sanctuary is doing a great job at limiting the human impact on their lives. This is a place of healing and begins immediately with a bear caretaker just providing food and cleaning the rescued bears cage. The life of a "dancing bear" was very painful and full of beatings and fear-based tactics to get the bears to do what their owners wanted them to do. This in turn has made the bears associate humans with fear and pain, which is understandable. The bears at first do not know what to do, so may try to perform to avoid an anticipated beating. After several days of just basic contact, the rope is removed from the bears snout and a series of medical assessments and treatment begins. Dental
care is one of the top priorities, as the bears teeth are "crudely" knocked out which has left the bears suffering in pain, not to mention the impact that the hot poker to pierce their snouts and the knotted ropes have had. The bears are first quarantined from the others, as some may have TB, or other socialization problems that comes from being traumatized.
One sad aspect of the tour was seeing the blind "dancing" bears. Either through the motion of pulling repeatedly on the rope that grazes their eye lids, or because the owner needs to find better ways of controlling an aging bear some are blinded. These bears are kept together once they get through their introductory time at the Sanctuary. There are over 40 employees that tend to over 150 bears at this sanctuary. Wildlife S.O.S. has now rescued over 460 bears and the number is expected to increase soon. It is believed there are still over 800 working dancing bears, and the act of poaching the babies from the jungles still goes on. The habitats are rebuild nearly daily, as the bears are quite curious and mischievous. The visit to see several of the
young sloth bears rescued last year was very entertaining and endearing. They absolutely love each other and spend their days interacting, wrestling, playing with their toys (tires and such), and sleeping together. As you notice one of the signs that indicate the organizations that are helping with this beautiful rescue project, I hope you will now know that your money is going for very worthy causes.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008: More Reflections on Agra and visiting the Dancing Bear Sanctuary...
I am still in Agra, my second night now approaching. I will leave to Jaipur tomorrow and have expanded my time so I will be there for 3 nights instead of two. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal, “done that”, and some of the other popular monuments. I feel as though I have seen enough monuments, however I have a rickshaw driver who is darn determined to show me more tomorrow morning before I need to leave for the airport. Today, I was able to visit the Dancing Bear Sanctuary, and understood immediately why it took so long to get confirmation that it was okay to visit. There were armed guards at the double gates that served as the entrance.
It was nestled in within a popular bird park that looked rather impressive regarding how clean the river was. I also saw a heron catch a large fish immediately upon entering the park, so that was a good sign. I had no idea how sacred these bears are, as they are guarded and tended with the utmost care.
In meeting with Dr. Raja today, who was kind enough to give me a personal tour, he said it is very important that these bears not be treated or seen as zoo animals. The 40+ staff that tend the bears and recreate their habitats appear busy and very dedicated to their work. Quite a few bears were not visible to me, and taking any photos are strictly monitored and limited. This is understandable though, as the bears have spent their lives entertaining, and even if they were rescued as small cubs, still have been viewed as items that are to serve us humans.
Not taking photos is another reminder that they are not at the sanctuary to please and to pose for us. The road to recovery
is very involved and intensely monitored, including slowly gaining the bears trust so they don’t flinch and try to perform when in the presence of humans. It was touching to see the work that is being done with these “Dancing Bears” and to think about the passion and commitment that the rescue and ongoing care of these bears demands. I was inspired to keep this organization in my mind, and will hope that I can be of service in some way, in form of a fundraiser or other events in the future.
Tomorrow, I may be able to meet with a mobile street clinic that another doctor is heading up that provides medical care to the working donkeys. I will see if this works out, otherwise it will be site-seeing before heading off to Jaipur.
On a personal note, it has been very cold here in Agra, as well as in Delhi, and not enough blankets last night has lead me catching a cold. I am low-energy currently, but will hope my energy is better over the next few days when I get to see to work HIS is doing with the working elephants in Jaipur. It sounds
like I will also get to see the work being done with the working camels, as well as visit an animal shelter. Re: how it feels regarding this trip…. I don’t know. I am here, and just letting things unfold. I am feeling more comfortable being in India, than when I first arrived in Delhi. I am a week into my trip, three weeks left, so we will see what life brings next!
Wednesday, January 16th: I am in the Agra Airport quite early for my flight to Jaipur, so have some time to contemplate and catch up with my journal. Last evening, the staff provided me with a very thick quilt so I was finally warm, however a chest cold has set in, likely the contributing factors of the traffic pollution and the very chilly morning and nights. Who would of thought India would be this cold!?!!! Certainly, not me. My efforts to connect with the donkey project proved unsuccessful, but the error is mine for not having the energy to try to connect with Dr. Tandi last evening, as GEE TA (Kartick’s associate) had so kindly called for me in advance. I got the assistance
of my auto-rickshaw driver to try to call for me yesterday evening and this morning, but I certainly should have called earlier in the day to have a chance to connect with him. This morning, I went out for a bit of site-seeing this morning, including visiting the Red Fort and seeing the back of the Taj from the river. On the way to the river, we passed by very poor and primitive housing, made of plywood and tarps. I then saw a little child barefoot, smiling. As I passed by children going to school in the uniforms, they would wave with sweet smiles. India is so full of contrasts and the Western mind of what constitutes a happy existence. I am certainly not glamorizing what it is to be poor, I mean really poor. I just saw smiling faces in places you would think would not be there. By the river, I saw a camel down there, with signs of bloody piercing in his nose. I felt for him. It was explained to me that this particular camel had bitten a tourist for trying to take a picture close up of his head. The owner in turned punched the
camel in the face as punishment. This poor camel had signs of branding on his face and looked like his life was certainly not ideal. A young man who was at first trying to sell me a booklet of postcards (which I declined) shared that he agreed that the treatment of camels was for the most part quite cruel. Some owners are not compassionate towards them, making the life of the camel even more difficult. It felt good being in the company of someone who knew the cultural implication of camels, but disagreed with their treatment. On the plane to Delhi from Bangkok, I sat by a man who worked for the Indian Government Finance Department. He was returning from a conference. I had shared my plans to connect with some of the animal protection organizations that are working to help the elephants and dancing bears. His response was interesting, as he said; “What about the camels?” It seems that he was the universe’s little bug in the ear to make me more aware of the camels while I am here. Then, later that same day, I received an email from Dr. Madhu who I will be connecting with in
Jaipur. He coincidentally told me that there is also project that is working to help the working camels that I may be interested in seeing. So, the chapter is expanded to include the camels too. I also wanted to mention that when I was meeting with Kartick, founder of Wild Life S.O.S., I mentioned that I would be going over the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand towards the end of this trip. He shared that Wildlife S.O.S. is well familiar with the work that the Elephant Nature Park is doing, and that they are modeling their elephant sanctuary after it. They have land now for the sanctuary, but need to get it ready for the elephants that will soon hopefully begin living there, thus ending their lives as working street elephants. So I will soon catch my flight to Jaipur, and hopefully get some rest today and recover from my cold, so I can be bright and chipper for meeting with Dr. Madhu from H.I.S. (Help in Suffering) to see the work he is doing with the elephants there. So I am tried, but taking the next steps in continuing this journey!
Also please visit my website @ www.animaldreamers.org
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