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  Dancing Bears in India

A dancing bear spends its life at the end of a four feet long rope in pain and fearQalandars, a nomadic gipsy tribe date themselves and the origin  of bear dancing back to the 13th century and the pre- Mughal era. Qalandars gained prominence as the royal entertainers in the courts of the Mughal emperors where they also performed magic tricks and staged wrestling bouts. Once the emperors and kingdoms became history, they started to perform 'Bear dancing' for the general public.

Domestic and international visitors to India would often see these bear dancers on the highway between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Today, about 800 dancing bears are performing on the streets across the country. In India, bear dancing is banned by the Wildlife Protection act 1972. But various socio-economic and political factors have made it a difficult task to implement this law.

A dancer sloth bear at workQalandars purchase the sloth bear cubs from tribal poachers/traders and then train them to dance and respond to commands using the crude tools of pain and fear. At the tender age of just six months, a crude iron needle is heated and driven through their muzzle without anesthesia or any other antibiotic, and a rough rope is pulled through the sensitive swollen muzzle. This agony of grossly swollen muzzles and torn tissues together with a fair amount of beating and systematic starvation usually teaches the bears who the master is. The bears live the rest of their lives at the end of a four foot long rope and with no stimulation at all, thus causing several mental and stereotypical symptoms. Male cubs are also castrated at a very young age to keep their owners safe, again crudely by use of a razor, without anesthesia or antibiotics. Canine teeth are removed when one year old, by knocking them out with a metal rod.

For the rest of  its life, the bear  will dance on the road to earn money for the Qalandar. The wound on the muzzle will never heal and often be infested with maggots. Most of the bears will "bear" the suffering only for a few years since they will die due to Tuberculosis, Leptrospirosis or Rabies. We have noted that a large number of dancing bears are blind due to malnutrition but were still being used by the Qalandars for dancing.

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