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>  Volunteer Projects Asia  >  The Skytrak Bear Project

The Great Bear Project

Help IAR and Wildlife SOS care for rescued sloth bears in India from £995/ per person

For more than 400 years, the sloth bear has been a target for human exploitation. A nomadic tribe known as the Kalandars began dancing sloth bears for emperors in the Mughal era. Over the centuries the dancing bear trade transitioned, despite being outlawed in 1972, to become entertainment for villagers and tourists who paid for pictures and fuelled the practice for decades after.

Through underground trading, the bear cubs would end up in the hands of the trainers. With no anaesthesia, their teeth would pulled out and a red hot poker would be driven through the muzzle of the bear, often at the age of just six months, before a rope or metal ring would then be pulled through the painful piercing. This would be left in place permanently and used to pull the bears around and to make them dance for 10 hours a day. For many bears a life at the end of a rope would be all they ever knew.

In 1997, Wildlife SOS approached the Indian Government with a proposal to help bring an end to this brutal practice and by 1999 had collaborated with the Government to establish rescue centres to rehabilitate abused dancing bears. In 2002, Wildlife SOS partnered with IAR to combat the trade by persuading the Kalandar bear dancers to voluntarily surrender their bears, effectively their livelihoods, in exchange for training in an alternative vocation. 

In December of 2009, Wildlife SOS rescued what they believe was the last dancing bear in India. The bears sadly cannot be released as they were never taught how to survive in the wild by their mothers who they would have spent up to 3 years forming a close bond with had they not been poached. There is also a worrying rise in poaching for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as human encroachment into their habitat so the centre also cares for newly orphaned cubs rescued from poachers.

The Bannerghatta Bear Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre’s aim is to provide the best quality of life for the bears that cannot be released, such as through creating enrichment to promote natural behaviours and to mentally stimulate them. Volunteers on The Great Bear project work alongside the Wildlife SOS team assisting with creating this enrichment, husbandry, management, education, awareness, data gathering and research, with the chance of joining wildlife rescues should the chance arise.


Project Summary

Focus: Sloth bears

Location: Bannerghatta, India

Arrival and starting point: Bengaluru International Airport, Bangalore

Start dates: The 5th of each month

 

 

Start dates are on the 5th of each month.

Day 1: You will be met at the Bangalore airport (Bengaluru International Airport) by a driver holding a sign with your name. You will then make the 2 hour drive to Bannerghatta where you will settle into the volunteer house and the Wildlife SOS facilitator will give you an introduction to the project.

Days 2 to 14: The Bear Sanctuary: Over the next two weeks you will be working alongside the staff at the rehabilitation centre providing care for the bears under rehabilitation in every way necessary for the day to day running of the centre.

Volunteer activities will be dependent on what is primarily necessary at the centre however on a daily basis you will be involved in assisting with cleaning night dens, preparing food, cutting fruits and vegetables and fixing enrichment climbing frames in outdoor enclosures. There is also the popular task of doing a scatter feed through the free roaming bear enclosure to provide the bears activity and adequate enrichment.

Day 15: Departure: The programme ends for the 2 week volunteer project. You will take a private transfer to Bangalore airport for your departure. Or continues at the centre for another 2 weeks making up the 4 week programme (28 days). 

Volunteers will have the weekends for leisure time if they wish.

Please note that itineraries are subject to change

 

Volunteers will be treated as pseudo-staff for the wildlife centre for the duration of their stay on the project. 

Volunteers will have opportunities to take part in:

• Cleaning bear night dens
• Preparing the bears food
• Cleaning out outside enclosures
• Opportunities for tracking bears with radio collars (subject to field research projects being active)
• Distributing scatter feeding in outdoor enclosures
• Creating innovative enrichment ideas for the bears
• Repairing enrichment and climbing structures for the bears in outdoor enclosures
• Logging bears profiles, through observations and photographs
• Opportunities to join a wildlife rescue should it arise
• Documenting bear behaviour and diet preference through observation and time logs
• Local temple visits
• Assist with planting saplings and reforestation

 

In 1997, Wildlife SOS research confirmed the presence of over 1200 dancing bears scattered throughout the country. But with cooperation from the Indian Government and Forest Department; Wildlife SOS in partnership with IAR (International Animal Rescue) & FTB (Free The Bears) have been able to rescue and rehabilitate over 600 Dancing Bears. These rescued bears now live peacefully in sanctuaries across India - the project centre sprawled being the second largest - now enjoying a life where they'll never again have to endure cruelty, fear, submission or pain.


When Wildlife SOS, IAR and FTB decided they simply had to do something to help these bears, they knew that a sustainable solution needed to include helping the Kalandar trainers as well. Punitive measures were unconstructive, and you can’t force a person to give up the only livelihood they understand without providing an alternative. Not only would that be inhumane, it would undoubtedly lead to a high reoffending rate and crime would not stop.

So, in exchange for surrendering their bear and signing an agreement that they would not go back to dancing bears ever again, Wildlife SOS trained members of the Kalandar community in alternative livelihoods, provided seed funds to get them established in an alternative occupation, in many cases provided gainful employment, and helped send their children to school. They earn more money now than they did by exploiting the bears and they have legal occupations that let them hold their heads high. Wildlife SOS today supports the education of over 800 children from the Kalandar community across India.

The Project believes that it is important to train the Kalandars and other local communities in an alternative employment to reduce their dependency on exploitation and poaching of wildlife. We also teach them the value of protecting their natural inheritance and India’s rich wild heritage. In fact, several previous dancing bear owners now work at the Bear sanctuaries. You will get an opportunity to meet these reformed people and possibly work with them.

In the last 7 years, over 600 dancing bears have been surrendered voluntarily by their Kalandar masters. All of the families who gave up their bears are now in humane occupations; not a single one has gone back to dancing bears. Wildlife SOS ensures this by working closely with the community and monitoring their efforts at alternative livelihoods through social workers who visit the villages regularly.

In December of 2009, Wildlife SOS rescued what they believe were the last of the dancing bears in India.

Despite this success, it is still critical that anti-poaching efforts continue. Even with very little demand for them today as dancing bears, sloth bear cubs are still being poached, usually for use in Chinese medicine. This on-going poaching, combined with habitat encroachment, adds up to a serious threat to an already dangerously low population in the Indian Sub-Continent. The Wildlife SOS team has now also begun working on the issue of dancing bears in Nepal where the practice is still prevalent but being a different country, it will take more time.

The Great Projects has teamed up with Wildlife SOS and the BBRC (Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre) project in order to provide a long term sustainable donation to the project through the volunteers. The work of the volunteers is also incredibly helpful in reducing the work load for the current employees of the centre.

 

What is the currency of India? 
The Rupee is the national currency of India. 

When is the best time of year to volunteer? 
You can visit the project year round. The weather is moderate in the range of 15 - 22C all through year, however the best season is between September and January.

What else can I do around Bannerghatta? 
• There are some beautiful small Hindu temples to visit in the area
• There is the option for volunteers to take part in cookery lessons at a small extra cost.
• Spend the weekend in the cosmopolitan city of Bangalore 
• Treks in the Bannerghatta National Park
• A visit to the Nandi Hills
• Weekend visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hampi 
• Project facilitators can help you arrange reliable taxis and assist you with travel arrangements

How should I dress in India? 
Modesty in clothing is an important aspect of Indian life and we ask that our volunteers are respectful of local customs. Day time clothing should be light and loose fitting with scope for layering - remember that bare skin also presents an irresistible treat for mosquitoes! If possible women are advised to wear tops with sleeves.

 
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