Free the Bears Fund


bear_rescueThe Sloth bear is at the heart of the dancing bear trade and cubs are often sold as pets by Kalander gypsies. It is reported that despite protection afforded these bears under India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972, up to 1,000 sloth bears are kept in captivity as dancing bears and 100 cubs are poached annually to replenish and expand the supply.

Free the Bears Fund continues to campaign against the continuation of the dancing bear trade and refutes the argument that this is a cultural tradition that should be respected and allowed to continue. Dancing bears are seen frequently at major tourist centres in India, particularly Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The Fund realises that this so-called ‘tradition’ is supported primarily by tourists, who delight in seeing these bears perform. The Fund therefore urges travellers to become aware of the torturous process involved in training these bears: the painful piercing of the sensitive snout in order to thread ropes and chain through the perforation, the removal of teeth without an anaesthetic, and the placement of tender paws on hot plates in order to train the bear to “dance”. As a result of such treatment these bears, which are capable of living up to 25 years in the wild, rarely live to be 10 once captured, succumbing to infection, malnutrition and stress. When travelling in these countries we urge you to consider what entertainment you support and the hidden suffering that must be endured to provide it.

Free the Bears Fund urges you to write letters of protest to the Indian, Turkish and Bulgarian governments to end what is often viewed as a cultural tradition but is in fact little more than a barbaric sport.

Introducing the Sloth Bears Animal Dreaming has helped to rescue:

Between 2007 and 2010, Animal Dreaming offered a three-day Certified Course at either Taronga Zoo in Sydney or Sea World on the Gold Coast in Queensland. At these events we offered a large raffle, the proceeds of which were donated to a worthy cause. In 2007 we raised money for Appin Hall, a children’s foundation in Tasmania, but in 2008, 2009 and 2010 we donated all monies raised to the Free the Bears Foundation.

    • In 2008 Animal Dreaming helped rescue TARJAN. Tarjan is the ‘Dancing Bear’ that the graduates of the 2008 Animal Dreaming Certified Course raised money to help rescue, rehabilitate and release into a “Free the Bears” Sanctuary.  Tarjan is an adult male Sloth bear approximately 10 years of age who was rescued from Purulia in West Bengal. He was surrendered by Jamiruddin Kalandar and his extended family as part of the Kalandar Rehabilitation Programme. When he was brought into the care of “Free the Bears”, at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility, Tarjan was in a very poor state of health. His body was emaciated and his thin coat discoloured. He was suffering from inappetance and anaemia, opacity on his right eye and poor vision. His muzzle wound was severe from the constant pulling on the nose rope and had caused infected discharge in his nose. The “Free the Bears” vets immediately started work on Tarjan’s many health problems and by the time his quarantine period was over he had gained weight, strength and some confidence. Tarjan will take some time to realise that he really is free and that he no longer has anything to fear from people. He is a quiet bear, shy with the other bears in his socialisation enclosure and still fearful of open spaces. He prefers his own company and likes to rest under a shady tree. He has regained his appetite however, and enjoys the enrichment treats.
  • In 2009 Animal Dreaming helped rescue CAZZY and JOE. Cazzy and Joe are the two ‘Dancing Bears’ that the graduates of the 2009 Animal Dreaming Certified Course SlothBearCAZZYsmraised money to help to rescue, rehabilitate. Like Tarjan, Cazzy and Joe now live safe from harm in a “Free the Bears” Sanctuary.  Cazzy (who was formerly known as ‘Elsa’) is a female Sloth bear of about 18 years of age. On arrival she weighed a mere 56Kgs and was found to be severely dehydrated and malnourished. She was also suffering from a severe wound on her muzzle as her nose rope had become infected. She was immediately treated for dehydration, inappetance and infection. Her nose rope was removed and during quarantine as her health and strength improved with liver tonics and vitamins she was given prophylactic treatment for TB, de-wormed and vaccinated against disease such as leptospirosis. Joe (previously known as ‘Rishi’) is a young male Sloth bear of approximately 2 years of age. He is extremely playful and although his weight was just 66Kgs (he has already passed 72Kgs) he was in better health than Cazzy and has therefore been quicker to recover. Joe absolutely loves food and will eat anything! His plays constantly and particularly enjoys chasing other bears up trees and hanging out in the tyre swings. Cazzy is more sedate but she does enjoy digging around her enclosure for termites.
  • In 2010, the graduates of the Animal Dreaming Certified Course raised almost $4000 to help rescue, rehabilitate two more Sloth Bears. But, instead of rescuing a Bear, the money was donated to help support a team of ‘Free the Bears’ rescuers as they tracked Bears being smuggled out via Tibet. It was such an important project, and we were proud to be able to support it by donating the money we raised to help locate and save those smuggled animals.
  • In 2011 (for personal reasons) Animal Dreaming did not offer the three day Animal Dreaming Certified Course, so there was no raffle for the graduates to support in our bid to raise money for Free the Bears. Instead, we put out the call via FACEBOOK, and we are proud to say we’ve so far raised nearly $1000 toward rescue, rehabilitate and rehousing another Sloth Bear. If you would like to contribute to this cause, please phone Animal Dreaming on 02 6680 9899 and we will give your our bank details.


250px-Sloth_Bear_Washington_DCThe Sloth bear, Melursus ursinus, once mistakenly classified as a sloth, is identifiable by its shaggy black coat and Y shaped patch of cream fur on its chest, muzzle and eyes and its highly specialised snout. The IUCN Bear Specialist Group has identified the Distribution, Population and Range: The Sloth bear resides in forested areas of Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal. This number of sloth bears remaining in the wild has declined dramatically and whilst exact numbers aren’t available it is estimated that the population ranges between 7,000-10,000. The size of the home range varies with the abundance of food to be found within that region. Whilst little research has been conducted into the extent of the home range, it has been established that these bears do like to share it with other members of their species.

    • Physical Characteristics: Whilst size and weight of the Sloth bear varies with availability of food, they average a length of 140-170 centimetres, a height of 85 centimetres and a weight between 125-145 kilograms as an adult, the male being larger. In accordance with their highly specialised diet the facial and dental structure of the sloth bear has undergone major evolutionary change, whereby the muzzle protrudes, the nostrils can be voluntarily closed and the front incisors are absent, the bony palate behind them having been replaced by a hollowed cavity. Together these adaptations allow the Sloth bear to utilise its mouth and lips as a suction device to ingest its preferred meal, termites. To assist in digging for food and climbing trees their feet are equipped with long curved claws. Their gait, whilst slow and shuffling can become quite rapid if endangered.
  • Diet: In the tropics, termites abound and the Sloth bear has a ready supply of food. Sloth bears will however forage for other foods including honey, fruit, berries, cultivated sugar cane, yams and vegetation. They are also known to eat carrion yet are not predatory in nature. Whilst they prefer to feed at night, Sloth bears are not nocturnal and can be observed feeding during the day. It is reported that the sucking sound made during feeding is loud enough to be heard 300 metres away.
  • Hibernation: Hibernation has not been observed in the Sloth bear, probably as a result of the annual availability of food sources. It does however enter a period of lethargy late in the year.
  • Family Life: Mating occurs at different times and with varied frequency depending upon where the population resides. In Sri Lanka breeding appears to occur all year around whilst in India the breeding period is restricted to June and July. After a gestation of 6 to 7 months, the cubs are born in the dry season (December to January). It has been suggested that the Sloth bear is capable of delayed implementation if a food shortage is experienced. Sloth bears give birth to one or two 300-500 gram cubs. The mothers are particularly attentive and young cubs are often seen clinging to the mother’s back as she forages in the forest. Carrying cubs on her back is necessary as Sloth bears must travel long distances in search of termite mounds and can only stay feeding at one until such time as the soldier ants attack forces her to move on in search of another. Unlike many other species of bear, the female tolerates the male around the young, and he appears never to display threatening or predatory behaviour towards them. If the cub survives the first year of life it will stay with the mother for 2 to 3 years. Due to a lack of research estimates on cub mortality is nonexistent although it is believed that the survival rate is dependent upon the mother’s skill.
  • Conservation Status: The Sloth bear is listed on Appendix 1 of CITES, as a species that cannot be traded commercially.
  • Threats: Sloth bears share a habitat with many predatory carnivores such as tigers, leopards and wild dogs and are constantly under pressure from natural predation. Loss of habitat and illegal poaching for the animal trade has taken a serious toll on Sloth bear numbers to the point it is estimated that less than 10,000 remain in the wild today.


maryIn 1993, Mary Hutton was watching a local current affair program in Perth, Western Australia. She saw a segment that would change her life, and the life of her family. The segment contained horrifying footage of Asiatic Black Bears held in coffin sized cages unable to move or turn with non-surgical steel pipes inserted directly into their gall bladder. Every two weeks or so their keeper would insert a syringe into the tube and “milk” them for their bile – an Asian cure-all medicine. Gall bladders have been used in Asian medicine for centuries, however bear bile farming is a relatively new procedure so that the bear, instead of producing only one gall bladder from it’s carcass, can be “milked” of its bile for its entire adult life.

The next day, Mary drew up a petition and stood herself at the entrance of the local shopping mall. Within months, she had thousands of signatures, a regular group which became a committee and was beginning to receive information from other animal funds around the world – Free The Bears Fund was formed. When the petition signatures reached around 130,000 Mary and a small delegation of school children representing Free The Bears Fund were permitted to present them in person to the Chinese Embassy in Canberra. The surrounding publicity and continued public interest eventually lead to plans to play an even more active part. In order to do more, money was needed. Lamington drives, film nights, raffles (using donated prizes) and collection tins placed in shops and vet centres laid the foundations. Soon donations were being received and fund membership and merchandise became available.

During this time, Mary became aware of the plight of other bear species, particularly the Sun Bears of South East Asia. Not only were they the least known and most endangered bear species, they were undeniably the worst treated. Mary received a phone call from an Australian business man, Mr John Stephens, who was based in Cambodia. He informed her of some small Sun Bear cubs that he has acquired from restaurants in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, and was holding at his house. “Could Free The Bears find a home for these cubs”. He had tried everyone else to no avail. Mary got on the phone and did not get off until she had the answer she was looking for. Mr Wil Meikle, Director of Life Sciences at Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo, said if the criteria could be met, he would gladly give them a home. After a lot of import, export and quarantine procedures, a first was achieved. The three Sun Bears, named Mr Hobbs, Victoria and Lucille, became the FIRST transfer of an endangered species from Cambodia to Australia.

Free The Bears Fund Inc is now active in several countries in south-east Asia, including Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Kalimantan and India, saving sun bears, Asiatic black bears and sloth bears.


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