Saving the Sloth Bears — Eradicating the Dancing Bears of India

Anderson & Boback Family Law
6 min readOct 10, 2018


I guess I must have lived quite the sheltered life because I never knew there was such a thing as a “dancing bear.”

During the Middle Ages, dancing bears were a common and popular form of street entertainment throughout Europe and Asia. As the years have passed, it has become less common. There were still dancing bears in Britain until the practice was outlawed in 1911. India says that it only obtained the last dancing bear in its country just a couple of years ago. The traveling shows and individuals who needed to make a living would take the bears from place to place to “dance.” Just like the elephants in the zoos, people did not realize how horrible the practice was and the horror that these bears endure for our entertainment.

The Dancing Bears of India

Dancing bears were captured from the wild as cubs. The baby Sloth Bear hangs on to its mother until it can be independent, so in order to capture the baby, their mothers were killed. The young animals then have their claws trimmed or removed and a number of their teeth removed. A hot poker is run through the bear’s nose so that a ring can be inserted and a muzzle placed on the snout. A rope is tied to the ring and when you pull upward on that ring, a fair amount of pain forces the cub to its feet. The training is painful and the bear is taught that it must get on its feet and “dance” to music to alleviate that pain.

Other bears would be taught to dance by placing them on platforms of metal above large piles of burning logs. As the metal became hot the bears would be forced onto their hind legs by the use of the pole and nose ring and would then begin lifting each paw, in turn, to relieve them from the heat. As the process continued a drum or other music was played which, over a number of weeks and months, the bear came to associate with the pain in its feet. Subsequently, whenever the bear heard the drum or music it would begin to “dance”.


Wildlife SOS — Ending the Practice of “Dancing Bears”

A great group of people at Wildlife SOS in India have taken it upon themselves to put an end to this practice. ( Banning the practice of having a dancing bear was one thing, but it didn’t solve the problem for why the practice began in the first place. People needed the bears to make money. When they traveled with their bears and made them dance, people would cheer and clap and give money. If the bear owners gave up their bear, and that was the only way they knew to make money, then how would they support their family?

Finding Solutions That Make a Real Difference

The Wildlife SOS organization took on that challenge and came up with solutions that are making a real difference.

First, the bear handler had to sign a contract not to get another bear and if he did, he would be imprisoned. Then they trained him and his family in some type of career and helped them open up a business. The women were given sewing machines and taught to make clothes. Some people opened up spice shops or other types of businesses. This allowed the bear handler to get off the road and actually spend time with his family too. Traveling around the country wasn’t the best life for the bear handler either, since he is essentially a nomad and on the road all the time.

Their work didn’t stop there. The children are given school books and an education. The organization opened up medical clinics to provide free healthcare. Everything Wildlife SOS does is designed to help the family become self-sufficient so that they would eliminate the need to use the bears.

Our Volunteer Experience at Wildlife SOS

The films I watched when I first got to the bear camp will be burned into my memory forever. I cannot erase the horrors I saw on those films and even today they can make me cry when I think about them. It is just horrible what the human race does to animals all in the name of entertainment.

No more will I think it is cute to see a monkey on some man’s arm as he’s trained it to do tricks for people instead of letting the monkey live free. No elephant or camel rides for me either. We have to learn to be amused in some other fashion since the lives these poor animals face is just too cruel.

The Sloth Bears’ Habitat — Free to Roam

Once we’d received some information about the bears, we broke up into groups to work. Some of us cleaned the bear pools. Others cleaned cages. Their cages were made out of concrete and there were doors to the outside, but they are mostly left open. The only time the doors are down is when someone is outside to repair something or there is some reason to keep them inside. But mostly, the bears are free to stay inside and lay down if it is too hot, or they are free to roam outside or go swimming in their pools. Some of us chopped up fruits for lunch and poured big vats of porridge into bowls for their meal.

Bear Platforms, Watermelon and Lots of Honey

Some of us worked on constructing bear platforms. That was hard work. We had to dig the holes for the main poles and then tied poles across to make the platform. While we worked, the bears were in their cages and they stuck their noses out to watch us the whole time. Once we were done, we placed watermelons on top of the platform and put honey in a ball (about as big as a basketball) that had a hole in it, and strung it up. The honey would come out of the small hole on the bottom.

We got out of the bear yard and stood close by to see what would happen next. The SOS worker yelled that he was going to open the gates and wanted to know if we were ready. We were!

The gates opened to the bears’ cages and they ran toward the platform. I couldn’t believe how fast they ran. They ran up on to the platform and grabbed the watermelons and the noise they made as they ate them!

They batted that ball around and licked at the honey and we all laughed at how the honey was all over their heads. That was probably the highlight of our day. We sat around watching them for a long time and it made us feel so good. We felt like we’d accomplished something great, even though it was only building a bear platform.

Wildlife SOS — A Great Organization Doing Amazing Work

The people of Wildlife SOS are the most incredible people I’ve met. They work so hard to make this bear sanctuary a safe haven for these bears and to give them a normal life after what they’ve been through. They are still in need of help and I’d encourage anyone who is traveling to the city of Agra in India, where the Taj Mahal is, to stop and see the work this great organization is doing.


They can use some financial help too, so I’d encourage you to spend a little money on this worthy group. It is money well spent and it isn’t until you’ve been there and see what they do, that you can truly appreciate what the people there are doing for the sloth bears. The organization isn’t resting now that they’ve rescued the last dancing bear. They still need to keep the bears from the poachers and provide and care for the bears that they already have.

Reach deep into your pockets and help out this great organization. You won’t be sorry!
Please learn more about Wildlife SOS and their work by visiting their website today.




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