Page last updated at 16:30 GMT, Sunday, 28 December 2008

Charity saves 500th dancing bear

Rescued bear Chitra
Chitra was scrawny and frightened when rescued, IAR said

An East Sussex charity which is aiming to end the trade in dancing bears in India has rescued its 500th animal from the streets.

International Animal Rescue (IAR), based in Uckfield, said it was a major milestone in its campaign.

Chitra, a 12-year-old female sloth bear weighed a "scrawny" 9st 9lb (62kg), according to the charity and was frightened and expecting to be beaten.

Her owner handed her over to a bear sanctuary, in Agra, funded by IAR.

Infected muzzle

"Chitra's muzzle was painfully swollen and inflamed as it had been pierced several times in the past, resulting in a huge tear down one side," said Geeta Seshamani, a spokeswoman for the sanctuary.

"The ring had been inserted into her delicate muzzle when she was just months old and it was biting into her delicate skin and infected with pus.

"We had to remove the ring surgically along with her neck ropes that were also very tight.

"Chitra's canine teeth had been knocked out, with great trauma to the roots, and she came in suffering a longstanding mouth inflammation with ulceration inside."

IAR set up the Bannerghatta sanctuary, run by Wildlife SOS of India, in 2002 with six bears.

The charities believes there are now about 125 dancing bears left on the streets.

IAR has nominated 2009 as its Year of the Bear to give a new impetus to the campaign.

Chief executive Alan Knight said it would be promoting a new bear adoption programme for sponsors along with other fundraising events.

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