In mid-march 2018, charity World Animal Protection learned of the tragic destiny of Sridevi, one of Nepal's two last dancing bears, who they decided to then save. However, in a tragic turn of fate, she died in a zoo instead of being taken to a government sanctuary, as planned.
The end of a "cruel" tradition
Sridevi and Rangila were both the last two victims of a tradition which forced the bears to dance for the public's entertainment. The animal trainers got them to dance through very brutal training methods.
They pierced a large hole in their muzzle so that a large cord could be placed through and used as a leash and training tool. Mary Hutton, founder of austrialian charity Free The Bears, called this tradition "cruel" and "terrible".
Source: World Animal Protection
In December 2017, charities World Animal Protection and the Jane Goodall Institute of Nepal, finally freed the last two victims of this tradition. Sridévi, aged 17 and Rangila, 19, were supposed to then be taken to bear sanctuary, Wildlife SOS in Agra, India.
This had all been arranged by the Nepalese authorities, who were also part of the team responsible for rescuing them in the first place.
"We are devastated"
In reality, Rangila and Sridevi were brought to Jawalakhel Zoo following authorisation from Nepal's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC).
Criticised on more than one occasion for its substandard conditions, the zoo was certainly not in a position to cater for two bears. This became immediately obvious after Sridevi died just three months after arriving, with the cause of her death still remaining unknown.
Neil D'Cruze, senior wildlife advisor for World Animal Protection said:
We are devastated to learn of Sridevi’s death. Our recent emotional rescue was intended to give her a life away from cruel captivity and her welfare was our top priority. We hoped that she would live the remainder of her life free from harm in a nurturing environment.
Increasing concern for the surviving bear
After Sridevi's death, footage of Rangila, the other bear saved with her, was released. In the video, he is shown pacing back and forth and head weaving, both clear signs of psychological trauma.
However, the Nepalese government has declared Rangila's living conditions to be satisfactory. Even if the DNPWC seems ready to appeal to the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation in Nepal, the incoming elections in the country could cause complications.
As Manoj Gautam of the Jane Goodall Institute in Nepal explains, the situation is nevertheless urgent:
The central zoo in Kathmandu on the other hand is an overcrowded facility with poor conditions – we really are appalled that their lives have taken this twisted turn.
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