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The Kalandars are India’s traditional dancing bear owners
The cubs are most often tiny and fragile when captured and are roughly handled by the poachers. Enduring severe shock compounded by fear, the cubs finally arrive at a Kalandars village.
When they arrive, their torment continues. The Kalandar, who want the bear to be submissive so all in their power to dominate the cub. The cubs first few days are spent under an upside-down basket. In the Dark. Without food, water, or contact of any kind.
Next the cub is taken from under the basket and tied to a post in the village where the children torment the already frightened animal.
Before the age of 6 months, the cub's muzzle is pierced with a red-hot poker, without anesthesia. The poker is forced through the bone, cartilage and nerve membrane in the top of the muzzle. A coarse rope is then pulled through the wound, sometimes resulting in an infection.
In many cases, a second piercing is necessary, usually done before the first wound has healed. Before they reach a year old, their teeth are knocked out with a hammer -- with no anesthetic.
Between 60% and 70% of the cubs die before they can be trained. Surviving cubs suffer a punishing regime of beatings and starvation to make them submissive to their trainers. Cubs normally spend at least two years with their mothers, so it is not difficult to imagine their fear as they are subjected to an unnatural existence ridden with pain.
To train the bear to dance, hot coals are placed under their feet and the muzzle pain is exacerbated as the trainer pulls on the rope forcing the cub to stand upright. Under their thick collars, cuts are made to inflict more pain, thus the bears' undivided attention and complete compliance.
Once upright the trainers strike each hind paw with a stick. To avoid the pain, the bear lifts each foot in turn. Eventually, the trainer has only to strike the ground for the bear to lift its feet. It is now a "dancing" bear. A tap on the muzzle causes the bear to fold its paws over its nose in a gesture of "greeting" to amuse the audience.
The bear is taught to fear its owner, a simple matter when the animal is small. As the bear gets bigger and stronger, the owner, needing to exert full control, reinforces the fear by hitting the animal across the face with sticks and ropes.
If the bear shows any sign of rebellion, the rope through the muzzle is forcibly pulled to make the bear stand and, in many cases, the muzzle is re-pierced to exert control through further pain. In the end, the spirit is broken. Once trained, the bears travel with their owners for eight or nine months of the year, often over long distances and mostly on foot.
On average, the bears work about 6 hours a day and up to 10 hours for special occasions such as weddings, festivals and fairs. While on the road the trainer may allow his bear to have enough leeway on the rope to forage by the roadside for ants or other insects. Life on the road is hard for both bear and owner, no form of medical help is available for either.
The bears may suffer, and die, from stress, training methods, gastro-intestinaldisorders, respiratory diseases and worm infestations. When medical help is needed, the Kalandars rarely consult a vet, preferring instead to ask village elders for advice. A Dancing Bear has several fates that await her when she can no longer dance due to age or illness (most have tuberculosis)...
Many are transported to Nepal, Bangladesh or Pakistan where they are killed for their gall bladder or as a entree in a gourmet dinner.
Others have their gall bladders harvested for eastern medicine. India is the 4th largest supplier of gall bladders to Japan according to Traffic International.
The Indian Sloth Bear is also the bear used in the bear baiting fights in Pakistan where the bear is tied up, then dogs are set on it. The bears that survive after a fight is stopped, are put up to fight again after her bite wounds heal. A bear usually only lasts 3 fights before she is literally torn to pieces.
Even though the Sloth Bear is a protected animal under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, over 100 cubs a year are poached for the Dancing Bear trade. Here's what happens to them.
A total of 60% to 70% of the cubs die before training.
20% from shock of separation from their mothers
20% to 40% die during transportation
20% die during early handling
40% of the remaining cubs die during their first year.
Dancing Bears - 7 to 8 years
Wild Sloth Bears - up to 30 year