TEDIndia 2009

Kartick Satyanarayan: How we rescued the "dancing" bears"

Filmed:

Traditionally, the Kalandar community of India has survived by capturing sloth bear cubs and training them to "dance" through extreme cruelty. Kartick Satyanarayan has been able to put an end to this centuries-old practice, and in so doing discovered a lesson of wider significance: make the practitioners part of the solution.

- Wildlife conservationist
Kartick Satyanarayan works tirelessly to save India’s wild animals from illegal captivity and poaching -- most notably rescuing hundreds of “dancing” bears. Full bio

Hi. For those of you who haven't seen dancing bears,
00:17
these are the dancing bears.
00:20
In 1995, we started working on a two-year investigative research project
00:22
to try and find out what was going on.
00:25
Because the sloth bears in the wild were obviously getting depleted
00:28
because of this.
00:30
This is the Qalandar community. They are a marginalized Islamic community
00:32
who live across India,
00:36
and have been in India since the 13th century.
00:38
We went about getting evidence of what was going on.
00:43
And this is footage from a hidden camera in a button.
00:46
And we went in, pretending to be buyers.
00:48
And we found this right in this very state, in Karnataka.
00:50
And the bear cubs were being harvested from across the country
00:53
and being sold and traded.
00:56
These were being sold for about 2,000 dollars each,
00:58
and they are used for bear paw soup,
01:00
and also being trained, later on,
01:02
to become dancing bears like the one you just saw.
01:04
Sadly, the family of Qalandars depended on this bear.
01:08
The couple are barely 18 years old.
01:12
They already have four children beside them. You can see them.
01:15
And the economy of the family and their livelihood depended on those animals.
01:18
So, we had to deal with it in a very practical and sustainable manner.
01:21
Now, when we started working deeper and digging deeper,
01:24
we found that it's an illegal act.
01:27
These guys could go to jail for up to seven years
01:29
if they were caught by authorities.
01:32
And what they were doing to the bears was really appalling.
01:34
It was unacceptable.
01:36
The mother bears are usually killed.
01:39
The cubs, which are taken, are separated.
01:41
Their teeth are basically bashed out with a metal rod.
01:44
And they use a red hot iron needle to make a hole through the muzzle.
01:47
Now we had to start changing these people and converting them from using that
01:51
for a livelihood, to getting something else.
01:55
So, this is Bitu Qalandar, who was our first experiment.
01:57
And we were so unsure that this would work.
02:00
We weren't sure at all. And we managed to convince him.
02:02
And we said, "Okay, here is some seed fund.
02:05
Let's see if you can get something else." And we got the bear surrendered
02:07
to -- we set up a sanctuary. We have four sanctuaries in India.
02:09
And now he sells cool drinks, he's by the highway.
02:12
He has a telephone booth.
02:15
And then it started, there was no turning back after that.
02:18
This is Sadua who came and surrendered his bear.
02:20
And now he runs a cattle fodder store and a grain store
02:22
near Agra.
02:26
Then there was no looking back at all for us.
02:28
We gave cycle rickshaws.
02:30
We set up carpet-weaving units,
02:32
vocational training for the women.
02:34
The women were just not allowed to come out of the community
02:36
and work with mainstream society. So, we were able to address that.
02:38
Education. The kids never went to school.
02:41
They only had Islamic education, very little of it.
02:44
And they were never allowed to go to school
02:46
because they were an extra earning hand at home. So we managed to get education.
02:48
So, we sponsor 600 children education programs today.
02:51
We were able to ensure brighter futures for these people.
02:55
Of course we also had to get the bears in.
02:57
This is what happens to the bears when they come in.
03:00
And this is what we turn them into.
03:02
We have a veterinary facility in our rescue centers.
03:04
So, basically in 2002 there were
03:07
1,200 dancing bears.
03:09
We rescued over 550 dancing bears.
03:11
We've been able to ensure better futures for the people and the bears.
03:14
The big news that I want to announce today
03:17
is that next month we will be bringing in
03:19
the very last bear of India,
03:22
into our rescue center.
03:25
(Applause)
03:27
And India will no longer have to witness this cruel barbaric practice
03:31
which has been here for centuries.
03:35
And the people can hold their heads up high.
03:37
And the Qalandar people will rise above all this cruel barbaric past
03:39
that they've lived all their lives.
03:42
And the beautiful bears can of course live in the wild again.
03:44
And there will be no more removing of these bears.
03:47
And the children, both humans and bear cubs
03:50
can live peacefully. Thank you.
03:53
(Applause)
03:55

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About the Speaker:

Kartick Satyanarayan - Wildlife conservationist
Kartick Satyanarayan works tirelessly to save India’s wild animals from illegal captivity and poaching -- most notably rescuing hundreds of “dancing” bears.

Why you should listen

Known by many in India as the “Bear Man,” Kartick Satyanaran is the co-founder of Wildlife SOS -- a non-profit wildlife conservation organization famous for its campaign to rescue every “dancing” bear in the country. For many years, “dancing” sloth bears were the only livelihood of the Kalandar community, but the practice involves extreme cruelty by modern standards, endangers the bear population and is illegal today. He began the organization with his aunt and fellow animal rights champion Geeta Seshamani in 1995, and since then they have rescued over 550 bears.

Satyanaran began rescuing animals as a child, with a particular tendency to rescue snakes. Although he majored in business management in college, he returned to his early love of animal as a field assistant tracking tigers for the Wildlife Conservation Society. Now, through Wildlife SOS, he runs rescue and rehabilitation centers for India’s sloth bears, elephants, leopards and more, as well as several conservation and forest watch projects.