Agra has the world’s largest sloth bear sanctuary at Keitham Lake (Soor Sarovar now), with more than 100 bears enjoying a comfortable and sheltered life.
“More than 25 years ago, tourists on the Fatehpur Sikri road and at other monuments were entertained with Bhaloo dances and acrobatics. It was a cruel practice. Later, the judiciary intervened and ordered the rehabilitation of Bear owners and the rescue of Dancing Bears at the sanctuary that was established by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in collaboration with the Wild Life SOS, which had rescued more than 600 bears from different parts of India,” according to environmentalist Devashish Bhattacharya.
Around 3,000 members of the Kalandar community that were engaged in Bear Dancing have so far been provided livelihood support to end this brutal practice.
Currently, the sloth bear population in India is estimated to be between 6,000 and 11,000 in the wild. The sloth bear species is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“The bears mainly face threats from degradation of their environment, encroachment by settlements and farmlands, and loss of natural habitat. Incidences of human-bear conflicts have led to casualties on both sides, sometimes leading to retaliatory killings of bears. Sloth bears can often face distress situations such as being stuck in snares or barbed wire fences, or even be the target of crude bombs planted by farmers,” said an office bearer of the Wild Life SOS.
An estimated 90 per cent of the global sloth bear population is found in India and co-existence is of utmost need. Awareness and protection of these wild populations are critical to their survival, so October 12 is the day officially designated to celebrate the uniqueness of these bears.
The prevalent human-bear conflict scenario has also prompted Wildlife SOS to launch a comprehensive Sloth Bear Radio Collaring project in Karnataka, aimed at understanding sloth bear movements, population status, and distribution within the state.
Thomas Sharp, Co-chair, of the IUCN Sloth Bear expert team stated, “Through the project, Wildlife SOS aims to analyse sloth bear movements to identify specific factors contributing to human‐sloth bear conflict, and assess the nature and frequency of human-bear conflicts to find viable solutions.”
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO, of Wildlife SOS said: “The population of wild sloth bears in India is a resounding reminder that a lot of work still needs to be done when it comes to the species’ conservation. The significance of World Sloth Bear Day will stand true in order to raise awareness among the common mass and spread knowledge about such a magnificent bear.”
Geeta Seshamani, co-founder and secretary, of Wildlife SOS said: “The first anniversary of World Sloth Bear Day is worth celebrating as it reinforces our commitment to conserve the population of this species in the wild. I sincerely hope that this day can instill more empathy among people about sloth bears, and wildlife as a whole.”
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