Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Sunday, 20 December 2009

Charity frees 'last' dancing bear

Alan Knight with the last rescued dancing bear, Raju
Alan Knight said it was a "resounding success" [pic: IAR]

An animal rights charity from East Sussex says it has made history by freeing the last dancing bear in India.

International Animal Rescue, based in Uckfield, has been campaigning for an end to the centuries-old tradition.

It involved sloth bears having their teeth removed and being controlled by a rope bored through their muzzle.

The four-year-old bear, rescued on Friday, is the last of more than 600 to be given a permanent home and lifetime care in sanctuaries throughout India.

Alan Knight, chief executive of International Animal Rescue (IAR), said: "In all my years in animal welfare I have never been part of such a resounding success story.

"To transform the lives of hundreds of captive bears is amazing in itself - but to put an end to this cruelty once and for all is nothing short of momentous."

Bear handlers

The campaign to rescue the bears began seven years ago, jointly organised by IAR, Wildlife SOS (WSOS) of India, Free the Bears Fund (FTB) from Australia, and One Voice Association France.

The practice of dancing bears was made illegal in India when the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 came into effect.

Part of the campaign has involved providing a rehabilitation package for the bear handlers, known as kalandars, so that they can learn new trades and continue supporting their families after surrendering their bears.

For the first time kalandar children are able to attend school and receive an education sponsored by the Kalandar Rehabilitation Project.

Raju, the last rescued dancing bear

The campaign to rescue the dancing bears began seven years ago

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