Raju, perhaps the last "dancing" bear of the country, has been rescued in Bannerghatta, marking the end of a centuries-old tradition.
Raju's life has been a misery so far. A four-year-old endangered sloth bear, he had to dance, smoke and entertain people for the little food it used to get. Even the life of his handler, Raje Saad of Belgaum, was not very different.
On Friday, Raje surrendered Raju to the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre (BBRC), thanks to the initiative of Wildlife SOS, an NGO. The bear's freedom is the outcome of lengthy efforts by animal rescue organisations and the government that have taken the "dancing" bears off India's streets, where the animals were once as ubiquitous as snake charmers and their cobras.
In the past six months alone, the forest department, working along with the NGO, rescued 28 sloth bears—three from Agra, 15 from West Bengal and 10 from Karnataka, including Raju.
"There are still 20-25 bears that need to be rescued, but they are being hidden in Nepal," said Geeta Seshmani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS.
"Even the lives of Kalandars (handlers) are not so rosy. They seldom spend any time with their families and children. They have to travel a lot. It's perhaps these hardships that led Raju's handler to surrender the bear for a compensation of Rs50,000," she said.
"Dancing bears are usually underfed. They develop chronic diseases, and have partial eyesight and tumours. Tuberculosis is common among them."
Sloth bears can live up to 30 years. Raju is four and can look forward to have a less painful life at the rescue centre. It is one of the four bear rescue centres that were set up by India-based Wildlife SOS, Free the Bears Fund from Australia, Britain's International Animal Rescue and One Voice Association from France.
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