Wildlife SOS “franchises” dancing bear sanctuaries
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2007:
AGRA–Wildlife SOS, operating three sanctuaries for dancing
bears, has made a speciality of helping Kalandar dancing bear
exhibitors into other occupations, in exchange for their bears and a
pledge to stay out of promoting animal acts.
Frequently the price of a dancing bear is the training and
start-up capital to enable a Kalandar family to start a small
business, a sharp break from a tradition so ancient that many of the
oldest circus families worldwide–such as the Chipperfields,
performing in Britain since 1683–appear to have Kalandar origins.
“We have seen a change in attitude amongst the Kalandar
people themselves,” says Wildlife SOS cofounder Kartick
Satyanarayan. “Bear poachers in Uttar Pradesh state recently tried
to sell a young cub to a Kalandar community, but the villagers
refused to buy the cub because they knew this would be against the
law. I truly feel there is an end in sight,” Satyanarayn
emphasizes, “and one day the streets of India will be free of
captive bears being tortured for entertainment.”
Wildlife SOS began as a wildlife rescue auxiliary to the
Friendicoes Society for the Eradication of Cruelty to Animals in New
Delhi. In 1996 Wildlife SOS began building a dancing bear sanctuary
on 20 acres within the Sur Sarovar wildlife refuge, 17 kilometres
from the Taj Mahal in nearby Agra. Initiated as part of a
multinational string of dancing bear sanctuaries funded by the World
Society for the Protection of Animals, the first Wildlife SOS
sanctuary was completed six years later as the first Animal Rescue
Center accredited by the Central Zoo Authority of India, after a
split with WSPA.
It opened on Christmas Day 2002, sponsored by International
Animal Rescue, Save the Bears, and One Voice.
Observed ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim Bartlett on a recent
visit, “The area designated for Wildlife SOS was cleared land, but
they planted trees that have grown so fast that it seems to be a
natural jungle. The feel of it is exactly the same as at Keoladeo
Ghana National Park,” the renowned bird sanctuary near Bharatpur,
before recent years of drought drained most of the habitat.
“Wild animals are moving in from elsewhere,” said Bartlett,
who photographed a 20-foot python nearby, “and they are all safe
there. Wildlife SOS takes other species of rescued animals into the
facility,” as necessary. Civets and nilgai were on the premises
when Bartlett visited.
“These bears are not dangerous to the handlers, who can come
and go in their enclosures with no fear,” Bartlett saw. “The bears
sleep in their inner dens, or outside, as they wish. It is all
“The land for the bears goes down to the river that circles
around the back of the Taj Mahal,” Bartlett added. “They are trying
to secure a parcel of land on the other side of the river, so as to
expand the bear facilities, as they are expecting to receive more
Meanwhile, Wildlife SOS has opened two additional Animal
Rescue Centres for rescued bears–within Bannerghatta National Park,
near Bangalore, in Karnataka state, and at Van Vihar, near Bhopal,
in Madya Pradesh state.