Tormentors turn bear-keepers

Tormentors turn bear-keepers

Once bear tormentors who made a living victimising bears, they are now protecting the animals at the Bear Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (BRRC) in Bannerghatta Biological Park. 

The Kalandars, known for their notorious act of capturing the sloth bears and training them to dance to their tunes, have turned a new leaf in their life. They have transformed themselves as animal-keepers at the rescue centre.

One such former Kalandar is Imam Sahib, who hails from Hampinakatte, Bellary. He did not know any other job except  ‘bear entertainment’

“My father and his forefathers have all been into this business. None of them have ever been to school. The only source of our livelihood was the earnings made through bear shows,” he says. It has already been eight years since Imam took the job of an animal-keeper at the BRRC. He had been a Kalandar for eight years.

“Life cannot be better than this,” Imam said of his new profession. Recalling his days as a Kalandar, Imam says that life was very difficult as there was no regular earning that time. His community, including his family, has now been rehabilitated by the Wildlife SOS, a non-government organisation working for bear protection at Bannerghatta.

Kalandars separate the bear cub from its mother at a very young stage. They pierce the nose of the animal to tie a rope so as to control the animal. They even remove the canine teeth of the cub in an unscientific manner causing trauma to the animal, which later develops infection.

Now, Imam is an expert at handling the bears in the rescue centre. He constructs play structures for the animals for their adventure at the rehab centre. Imam hides food in these structures in a manner that bears do some physical activity while searching for food.  “The bears will become lazy in the absence of physical activity. Allowing them to play with these structures helps them keep fit,” Imam added.

More than 100 sloth bears are housed at the BRRC and 10 of them recently fell ill due to suspected tuberculosis. All the animals at the Centre are the ones rescued from Kalandars and abused for many years.

“Bears are known to be nocturnal animals, but once under the control of the Kalandar, they are usually taken out during the day where the entire day is spent on the road, which changes their biological clock causing maximum trauma and permanent damage to their lifestyle. 

Now, it is nice to see the same Kalandars taking special care of these bears at the rescue centre,” says Dr Arun A Sha, wildlife veterinary, BRRC.

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