The Last Dance: International Animal Rescue’s life-saving efforts to protect bears in India

If you are present on any kind of social media, you’ll be well aware of the concerns for animal welfare throughout society, with petitions, fundraisers and awareness content being circulated on a daily basis. Sadly, awful things happen across the world every day, but we are proud to say we have worked with an amazing organisation that have not only triumphantly rescued thousands of animals in need over the course of their work but also educate the world on the real negative impacts that humans can, unfortunately, have on animals.

International Animal Rescue’s (IAR) book, ‘The Last Dance’, documents the organisation’s work on a project rescuing bears from the illegal entertainment trade in India. It also shines a light on the incredible work they have been doing to rehabilitate those that were facilitating the cruelty, supporting their entry into new trades and educating themabout proper animal care.

This rescue first came to the attention of the head of International Animal Rescue, Alan Knight,during a visit to India when he noticed flyers from a local charity called Wildlife SOS that waslooking to rescue 1,200 sloth bears from the streets. Bears were usually captured as cubs and were taken from caves while their mother was catching food. Cubs would be hauled into sacks to be taken away, being starved and tortured until they became submissive. It is thought that as many as 80% of all stolen cubs die from wounds or malnutrition before even reaching adulthood due to the horrific treatment they endured. Those who do survive undergo a horrific procedure when they are roughly a year old. Several local people would hold down a cub and brutally force a red-hot poker through the top of the bear’s nose and out through the mouth, with a rope then inserted afterwards to give the captors full control over the animal for the rest of their life. This wound would never heal, and the captors never wanted it to, as causing the animal pain by yanking the rope forced the bears to respond to the captors out of fear of even more cruelty. Those watching performances using the bears would think that the bear was dancing out of enjoyment, when in reality this was purely out of fear, with most bears being forced to work for almost 12 hours a day.

The book documents the full rescue process from start to finish, highlights all the remaining sloth bears working on the streets in India and provides profiles of all the rescued bears and pictures of them before and after they were rescued. IAR also presents obstacles to rescuing the bears such as the 2011 floods or the fact that rescues can be prolonged by illnesses or orthodontic problems the bears often had when they reached their rescue sanctuaries.

While several charities notoriously do not consider the consequences of their work, resulting in negative consequences for local communities, IAR worked with the bear captors to help rehabilitate them and learn new trades. As Bill Bailey stated in the book, “we went to the Kalander village today and you see how these people rely on the bears for their income. So any solution to the problem has to include them.”Kartick Satyanarayan the co-founder of Wildlife SOS said: “we realised early on that there was no point rescuing bears unless we also gave the Kalanders new skills that would enable them to earn a living without making bears dance.” Kalandar women were taught sewing and embroidery skills, men learnt how to cook and sell snacks, and were taught various skills such as weaving. Children were also provided with an education.