AGRA, CHENGDU––Wildlife SOS founder Kartick Satyanarayan spent most of the first two months of 2005 often literally up to his hips in post-tsunami swamp water and sometimes displaced salt water crocodiles, gorged on human remains. Still, Satyanarayan did not forget that his primary objective for the year was to rescue sloth bears and jail the poachers who supply cubs to dancing bear trainers and bear-baiters.
“Kartick has been madly rushing from tsunami work in the Andaman Islands and Tamil Nadu to anti-poaching work, as this is the peak season for bear cub poaching,” Friendicoes SECA shelter manager Geeta Seshamani said. “We have managed four raids between all the other work and rescued nine tiny cubs and six slightly older cubs at locations in Orissa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra states.”
Wildlife SOS originally partnered with Friendicoes SECA to rescue animals from the streets of Delhi. Friendicoes SECA handles dogs, cats, and other domestic species; Wildlife SOS responds to calls about urban wildlife, mostly snakes and monkeys.
Starting in 1996, Wildlife SOS and Friendicoes SECA built India s first sanctuary for dancing bears, 17 kilometres from Agra, backed by International Animal Rescue of the U.S. and Britain, Save The Bears of Australia, One Voice of France, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals.
Fielding animal rescue teams after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and December 2004 tsunami were their next joint ventures.
Interdicting the bear traffic went on all the while, including a February 5 sting operation in Hubli, Karnataka, that seized five bear cubs and brought the arrests of seven alleged poachers and smugglers. Hubli-Dharwad City Police Commissioner K.V. Gagandeep told the Deccan Herald that the suspects trapped bears in the thick jungles of Kalghatgi, in the Dharwad district, and in the forests of Uttara Kannada. Often they killed the mother bear, Gagandeep said, in order to take the two-to-three-week-old cubs.
The poachers sold the cubs to smugglers for less than $700 each. The smugglers markets were said to be in Pakistan, reached via clandestine routes from Gujarat or Punjab; Nepal, accessed through Bihar or Uttar Pradesh; and Thailand, which might have been a relay point for sending them to regions of Southeast Asia, notably China, where bear parts are believed to have medicinal value.
Bears sent to Pakistan are typically pitted against dogs in baiting exhibitions. Bear-baiting is illegal in Pakistan, and has been illegal under strict Islamic law since the time of Mohammed himself, but is still practiced in much of Central Asia, wherever law enforcement is weak or corrupt and bears are available. When the bears are killed or die from neglect and infected wounds, their remains are bootlegged to China.
Ashok & Julie
The bear rescue season for Wildlife SOS actually started about 10 days before the tsunami, when two bears named Ashok and Julie arrived at the Agra Bear Rescue Centre after a 17-hour journey from a small zoo in Goa to Agra, where they had been housed for about a month after the Goa Forest Department seized them from two dancing bear trainers.
The trainers, brothers and members of the Kalandar clan, entered Goa from Karnataka. The Kalandars have trained bears since the Middle Ages, and appear to be ancestrally related to the gypsy bear trainers of eastern Europe.
Because no one at the zoo knew how to look after bears, suspect Imam Saabu was employed as their caretaker, but in custody, Satyanar-ayan said, The bears were not getting any exercise and the heavy brass ring and the rope through their muzzle started affecting their health. They were losing condition, and their muzzles began to bleed and get infected.
Wildlife SOS spent a week treating their infections before deciding they could withstand transport.
“Ashok is three years old and Julie is five years old,” Satyanarayan said. “Ashok is a very philosophical bear, who has all his teeth. Julie on the other hand is more irritable, as she has suffered longer and perhaps had a more cruel owner.”
Satyanarayan renamed them John and Jo, after John and Jo Hicks of International Animal Rescue, who initiated their move to the Agra Bear Rescue Facility.
“Our experience shows that these bears will settle down very quickly at the rescue facility,” said wildlife veterinarian Arun A. Sha, “and in direct contrast to their long years of suffering, they will very soon learn to play and enjoy life like real bears.”
Bile farm bears
Animals Asia Foundation founder Jill Robinson spent much of the first half of January 2005 helping with tsunami relief work, chiefly in Thailand, but returned to the Animals Asia China Bear Rescue Sanctuary in Chengdu to supervise the mid-January arrival of another 46 ex-bile farm moon bears, raising the sanctuary total of rescued bears to 185.
One bear came from Laoning state, far to the north. The others arrived from elsewhere in Sichuan state, in groups of 11 and 34, on January 17 and 18. Their transport and unloading were complicated by freezing rain.
“Most of the bears are brought to us by the Sichuan Forestry Administration. They pay the farmers compensation. Their licences are then revoked and the farms closed down,” Robinson told reporters.
While Sichuan now discourages bile farming, “The rescued animals represent only a small percentage of the estimated 7,000-plus bears held on over 200 bile farms across China,” Robinson reminded.
As usual, the bears were transported in the cages into which they had been wedged since their abdomens were first tapped for bile, hardly larger than their own bodies.
“Hooting pitifully into the night and beside themselves with fear and pain, cubs, middle-aged, and elderly bears presented graphic evidence against the farmers claims that their new methods of bile extraction are humane,” said Robinson.
The Animals Asia veterinary team, led by Dr. Gail Cochrane, discovered that a fake free dripping technique of bile extraction is now used, Robinson continued. Rather than [tapping the bears bile through] a fistula, or hole in the abdomen, which was previously lauded as a state-of-the-art technique but which has in reality been killing bears in huge numbers, the farmers are now inserting a clear plastic catheter which is almost impossible to see, unless the abdomen is shaved and examined close-up.
The new technique is illegal, but appeared to have been used on most of the recent arrivals.
“In addition,” said Cochrane, “the farmers continue to de-claw the bears, cut away their canine teeth, and trap them from the wild. The evidence of illegal trapping included limb injuries and sometimes missing limbs, as result of capture with spring-powered steel-jawed leghold traps or heavy cable snares. The traps tend to cause more severe immediate trauma, but the snares cause loss of circulation to an entire limb.”
“To help discourage the use of bear bile, and to promote animal welfare generally, Animals Asia Foundation representatives visited student environmental protection groups from high-schools and universities across China during the summer of 2004, and were so moved by the enthusiasm of the students that we decided to set up Friends of Animals Asia China Support Groups,” Animals Asia Foundation U.K. director Dave Neale announced in February 2005.
“The Animals Asia Foundation is supplying support groups with event related materials such as display boards, newsletters, educational packs about traditional Chinese medicine, most of which relies on herbal rather than animal products, and Mandarin versions of our China Bear Rescue….the beginning and Dr. Eddie: Friend or Food? videos,” Neale explained.
The Dr. Eddie video, also available in an English version, tells the story of a dog whom Robinson rescued from a live meat market in Guangdong. Eddie is now part of the Animals Asia Foundation Dr. Dog therapy program in Hong Kong, one of numerous Dr. Dog programs started around Southeast Asia to help raise appreciation of dogs.
After showing Eddie on the job, helping humans, the video incorporates black-and-white footage of violent handling of dogs and cats throughout the Guangdong market where Robinson bought him. Many of the scenes show enough background to demonstrate that the incidents in the foreground are not unusual, but are the norm even with westerners present.
“So far, we have support groups at Beijing Chinese Medicine University, Jiang Chinese Medicine University, Guang Xi Chinese Medicine University, and the Environmental Support Group of Shan Xi High School. Already,” Neale said, “students from the Beijing Chinese Medicine University held a series of China Bear Rescue photo exhibitions and collected signatures of support from three high schools in Beijing. Students from the Green Power Society at Zhe Jiang University rolled out a series of exhibitions and promotional activities to 15 high schools, featuring lectures by Green Power members who had visited the China Bear Rescue Center.”
Wildlife SOS, c/o D-210 Defense Colony, New Delhi 110024, India; phone 91-11-24621939;
Animals Asia Foundation
P.O. Box 374, GPO Hong Kong; 852-2791-2225; fax 852-279-2320; <[email protected]>;
[Also PMB 506, 584 Castro St., San Francisco, CA 94114.]