Rescuers fighting to free Nepal’s last known Dancing Bear from ‘substandard zoo’


KATHMANDU, March 29: Animal lovers celebrated late last year when the last two known dancing bears in Nepal were rescued from being forced to perform for spectators. But World Animal Protection, an international nonprofit that helped facilitate the rescue, says the aftermath has turned into a tragedy.

The animal welfare group and the Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal worked with police in December to confiscate sloth bears Rangila and Sridevi from their handlers in the town of Iharbari. Bear dancing, in which bears are forced to perform for spectators ― and typically involves painful training methods ― is illegal in Nepal and is widely considered cruel.

Rescuers intended for the bears to go to a sanctuary in India. Instead, they wound up at The Central Zoo in Jawalakhel, Nepal. One of the bears, Sridevi, died in the zoo’s custody.

Neil D’Cruze, a wildlife biologist who works with World Animal Protection, said he found out in early March that the bears had been moved from Nepal’s Parsa National Park — where they were temporarily living after their rescue — to the zoo. The move happened “without our knowledge,” he said.

World Animal Protection characterizes the zoo as “substandard” with “extremely poor” conditions. Rangila is still alive, but video footage shows him exhibiting signs of severe stress, like pacing back and forth and head-swaying.

A zoo representative confirmed that the bears were at the facility, and said Sridevi died due to a “poor health condition.” He said that Rangila is in “good condition,” but acknowledged the bear was showing signs of stress.

The bear “is not showing any clinical signs except for some loose stool now and again which may be due to the liquid feed it has been consuming or may be also due to stress,” according to zoo project manager Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral . “It has been showing some stereotypical behavior like swaying of the head from side to side and occasionally biting itself.”

Rangila is “provided with termite or ant mounds from time to time” for enrichment, and his food also includes “bread, milk, egg, honey/molasses, sugarcane, apple, banana, seasonal fruits, and peanuts,” Pokheral said.

He added that Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation made the decision to send the bears to the zoo, and it’s up to the department whether Rangila stays there.

In the meantime, World Animal Protection and the Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal are desperately trying to get Rangila transferred to the Wildlife SOS bear sanctuary in Agra, India. D’Cruze said the groups have sent “multiple requests” to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation, and are working with local officials to make sure all paperwork is in place if the move is approved.

Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal founder Manoj Gautam said earlier this month that the sanctuary was ready to receive the bears, and is well prepared to care for them.

“We really are appalled that their lives have taken this twisted turn,” he said in a statement. AGENCIES