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Tuesday, July 14, 1998 Published at 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK

World: Europe

Last dance for Turkey's bears

By Duncan Kennedy:

Real Video : Duncan Kennedy reports
In the past, bear cubs were stolen to be trained as dancing bears.

Then as adults they would be made to perform for tourists a grotesque spectacle that many thought could never be stopped. But it has.

The Wildlife Rescue Centre, Bursa,Turkey is a sanctuary full of contented animals in a country now officially empty of dancing bears, a true success story for animal welfare.

[ image: Errol ideal trainee for the bear trade]
Errol ideal trainee for the bear trade
Errol, a cub bear, was found in Istanbul. He has the charm of a cuddly toy and would have been an ideal trainee for the dancing bear trade.

He was nearly caught up in the cruel and humiliating game but today he is safe.

Henderson :"People wanted the change but didn't have the means"
The whole push to reverse centuries of tradition and culture has been led by Peter Henderson of the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA).

[ image: Peter Henderson: personal crusade to eradicate the custom]
Peter Henderson: personal crusade to eradicate the custom
He has spent the past five years personally confronting angry bear owners and sometimes Turkish bureaucracy.

Bear dancing was always illegal in Turkey but what it needed was education to change attitudes.

Today living is easy for the retired dancing bears thanks to a massive new compound in southwestern Turkey courtesy of WSPA.

Although some bears have sore heads and others the odd irritation to take care of, most have adapted to their humane lifestyles.

The Turkish authorities say they are proud to have rid this aspiring European state of an ancient custom.

[ image: Bear dancing is still prevalent in India and the Balkans]
Bear dancing is still prevalent in India and the Balkans
So successful has this programme been that these young bears here may eventually be returned to the wild.

What is certain is that they won't end up as dancing bears. The traditions of hundreds of years reversed in just five.

Bear dancing still goes on in India and parts of the Balkans but Turkey can now be held up as a model for other animal welfare campaigns.

So if you go down to the woods of this country today life by comparison really is a picnic.

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