The sad lives of dancing bears

Posted: July 5, 2009 in environment, society
Tags: , ,

Under the law, the Indian sloth bear is entitled to the same protection as the tiger. Yet crimes against it are committed openly across India as bears are made to dance. By venturing on an undercover operation and witnessing the surrender of a dancing bear, the film seeks to show how this crime can be brought to an end.

DancingBears Please click here to donate or phone Humane Society International Australia on 1800 333 737


The sorrow of the bear dancing begins in the forest where the cubs are stolen from their mother at less than 4 weeks old and the mother is killed.

The traumatized cubs barely survive the rough handling they undergo as they are moved in sacks from one trading market to another. Those who survive and reach the Kalandar villages have their canines knocked out, a brutal castration without anaesthetic; a red hot iron needle thrust through their tender muzzles and a coarse rope inserted.

They will now spend the rest of their lives tethered to a short rope, led through hot dusty streets of India, beaten and starved to perform unless we step in and help them.


In India many sloth bears spend sad and painful lives dancing for tourists and rural audiences, with a coarse rope piercing their raw infected muzzles.
Wildlife SOS in India has initiated a unique approach to end this cruel tradition and HSI is committed to help until we have rescued every bear still dancing.

To date over 350 bears have been rescued and have found safety in the spacious bear rescue sanctuary. They arrive in such poor condition, usually half their natural body weight, scared and in poor health and pain.

BearsOn arrival each bear goes through quarantine and is vaccinated for a range of diseases including rabies and TB. Their wounds are treated, painful mouths and rotting tooth stumps are cared for by special dentistry work and a nourishing diet with feed additives slowly helps them put on weight and develop glossy coats.

The bears are then released in the socialisation enclosures where they slowly learn to deal with space and make friends with other bears and begin to exercise regularly. Finally they are free to roam in the forest in free ranging enclosures. We see them climbing trees, cooling off in the ponds and wrestling with each other. A well equipped veterinary hospital and three full time resident vets ensure their continued well being.


Bear dancers are very poor and most of them feel that if they could find a kinder way to survive, they would. Wildlife SOS offers them that chance by helping with start up costs and training to set up alternative ways of earning a livelihood. They also make it possible for them to send their children to school by subsidising school fees, and the women receive vocational guidance to help them contribute to the family income ensuring that the family has other options in life besides bear dancing. In this way we hope to make the bear rescue efforts sustainable and break the cycle of dancing bears permanently.


Protecting bear habitat is the only way to guarantee a future for wild sloth bear populations. Wildlife SOS buys parcels of this land so that bears and other species that depend on this habitat will survive. The areas that Wildlife SOS is seeking to protect, contain what are believed to be some of the oldest rocks in the world and are full of natural caves which are shelter for leopards, pangolin, hyenas, mongoose, turtles, otters, crocodiles and a rich array of birds. The purchase of this land creates a wildlife reserves for a whole range of animals. A soft release rehabilitation project for returning rescued bear cubs to the wild is also being planned.

Working on anti-poaching strategies with law enforcement agencies throughout India is also curbing the poaching of bear cubs from the wild.

sanctuaryAbear in rehab SANCTUARY OF HOPE

The aim is to rescue every last dancing bear from the streets of India and to ensure that it ends forever. As important as the care and rehabilitation of these rescued bears is, it is equally important that we end the cycle. To date not one Kalandar that has been retrained has returned to dancing bears. They are all proud of their new lives and skills and their children are being educated and will not inherit the trade from their parents. Anti-poaching work is showing extraordinary results with the number of poached bears dramatically reducing. And acquisition and protection of habitat gives the bears hope for a future in the wild.


Please click here to donate or phone Humane Society International Australia on 1800 333 737

Without you there is no project. Our supporters and members make all this work possible – for the bears, for the people, and for the land. Thank you for caring about the bears who thought they were forgotten.

  1. Sophie Gould says:

    I am pleased that people are doing something about this, i am actually doing an essay at school on dancing bears and why it is wrong please reply cause i would like to know what they go threw form someone who sees it everyday and hopefully take a bigger step to stopping this cruel way of pochers.

  2. Dana Hart says:

    I am unemployed and have no money. One way I can help is to put this on Face Book and have my friends make it go viral.

  3. Dana Hart says:

    My sister-in-law has family in India. She never talks about dancing bears. I guess the content never came up in conversation. I post The Sad Lives of Dancing Bears on FB weekly. Many of my friends never heard about it (neither did I). The message is getting out there. My nickname from some of my friends is “love bear”…”love beer”. I don’t drink, but when my friends comment like that, it tells me they are paying attention and posting information about dancing bears on their FB pages.

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