Wildlife SOS ended dancing bear acts in India–but WSPA claims credit

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  November/December 2012:

 

   NEW DELHI–Three years after Wildlife SOS took custody of the last known dancing bear in India in December 2009,  having rescued 460 bears in seven years, Wildlife Trust of India founder Vivek Menon and World Society for the Protection of Animals director general Mike Baker claimed credit for the accomplishment at the 21st International Conference on Bear Research and Management in New Delhi.

The conference was held just a few blocks from the Wildlife SOS head office,  and a three-hour train ride from the first Wildlife SOS dancing bear sanctuary in Agra,  opened in December 2002 after seven years of fundraising and construction initiated by cofounders Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani.  Pledging sponsorship early in the project,  WSPA eventually provided about half of the initial cost of building the Agra sanctuary,  but dropped the project before it was completed.  Most of the rest of the Wildlife SOS sanctuary construction and operating costs have come from the Australian charity Free the Bears,  International Animal Rescue of Britain, and the Wildlife SOS affiliate in the U.S.,  based in Salt Lake City.

WTI,  WSPA,  and the International Fund for Animal Welfare were among the sponsors of the five-day bear research and management conference,  opened on November 26,  2012.   Baker at the conference announced “the completion of our successful alternative livelihoods program,  run in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India,” which “assisted Kalandars–traditional dancing bear owners–to identify new livelihoods and to establish stable incomes.”

Wildlife SOS began funding Kalandar restarts in life in exchange for bears in 2002,  as soon as the Agra facility was able to house the bears.  WTI began a parallel project with WSPA and IFAW support in 2005.  Arguing that rescued bears should be returned to the wild,  WTI started the Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation at the Pakke Reserve Forest in Arunchal Pradesh in 2002. As of April 2008,  WTI claimed only two successful releases,  but on November 5,  2012 WTI posted that it had “rehabilitated 30 orphaned or displaced bear cubs in the wild in northeast India.”

Bile farming & gall

WSPA in September 2012 sent out a fundraising appeal signed by Asia Pacific animal welfare director Emily Reeves headlined “My visit to a bile farm” which paralleled the language and structure of appeals used since 2000 by Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson to raise funds for bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. WSPA personnel have often criticized Robinson’s approach of rescuing bears and publicizing the rescues to build opposition to bile farming within China and Vietnam,  but have not advanced an alternate strategy beyond publicizing bile farming to donors and endorsing conservationist efforts to halt international traffic in bear bile.

“We have a plan to stop the bear bile industry in the next five years,”  said Reeves.

Asked ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “What is the plan?  In what manner does it differ from the WSPA strategies against bear bile farming of the past 15 years?

Responded Reeves,  “We will soon be in a position to talk more publicly about our new approach to this issue but at present are not making detailed announcements about the campaign as we are aware of the potential implications if our internal information reached the wrong hands in some of the countries we are working.”  She then referred the question to publicist Adam Valvasori,  “who manages all the communications on our work on bears.”

At deadline WSPA had said no more.

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