Thursday, April 1, 2010

Animal welfare campaigners call for repatriation of dancing bear

Kathmandu – March 25, 2010 - Roots and Shoots Nepal and Animal Welfare Network Nepal (AWNN) call for the repatriation of Rubina, a rescued dancing bear, back to India. According to the campaigners Nepal at the moment cannot offer the specialized care rescued dancing bears need while India has four bear rehabilitation sanctuaries.

“Cites rules that confiscated animals that are the victim of illegal trade must be returned to their country of origin,” says CITES expert Ravi Aryal. Roots and Shoots Nepal and AWNN argue that Nepal should opt for cross-border cooperation and return rescued dancing bears to India. “India features some of the best Bear Rehabilitation Centers in the world, stretching 160 acres with all the facilities and habitat settings the rescued animals need,” argues Manoj Gautam, representative of Roots and Shoots.

According to the rescue team members Mr. Navin Dahal and Pawan Thapa, rescued dancing bears need specialized care as they normally suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, damaged feet, gastro-intestinal disorders and worm infestations. “Nepal at present cannot offer such care,” according to Thapa.

Wildlife SOS, an Indian organization active in wildlife rehabilitation, has expressed a willingness to rehabilitate the bear.

While in India dancing bears have virtually become a thing of the past, with over four hundred sloth bears being rehabilitated. In Nepal however, due to the weak implementation of CITES and wildlife provisions, around ten such bears are still active. The sloth bears are captured as cubs by Kalandars or Natyas, gypsies whose livelihood traditionally depends on bear dancing and juggling.

Sloth bear cubs are snatched by poachers when they are just weeks old and witness the killing of their mothers. The majority die from trauma, dehydration, starvation or all three. Those who survive are subjected to brutal training methods which include piercing their muzzles and threading it with a coarse rope; standing them on hot coals and hitting their feet with sticks to make them "dance". Before they reach a year old, their teeth are knocked out with a hammer -- with no anesthesia.

Sloth bears are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by IUCN and all international trade in them is prohibited. As they are poached widely for their gall bladders, believed to have medicinal qualities, the sloth bear population is expected to decline by more than 10 percent in the next ten years.

On 16th March, 2010 Roots & Shoots Nepal with the support of Wildlife SOS India rescued Rubina, a female adult sloth bear at Arunkhola, Nawalparasi. While her owners were arrested, the bear was handed over to Warden of Chitwan National Park. Rubina is kept at the National Park office until her fate is decided upon.

The facility where Rubina is currently being held is substandard. The bear enclosure at the only alternative location, the Kathmandu Zoo, fails any international standard. As a result, three out of four zoo bears have died in the near past. “If Rubina is not repatriated to India we fear for her life,” says Gautam.

Earlier this month the Nepalese and Indian Ministries meet to design a functional cross-boundary mechanism to curb wildlife trade.  Roots & Shoots and AWNN believe that the repatriation of animals such as Rubina will be a good start to show how cross-border cooperation can save animal lives and curb the poaching of protected wildlife in the region.