The Kalandar community of South Asia has performed with dancing sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) since the late Vedic era (1000–700 BCE). This illegal profession negatively impacts wild populations because cubs are poached to fuel it. It also raises serious welfare issues for the bears. Poor enforcement, a lack of adequate facilities for confiscated bears, and sustainable alternative sources of revenue for the bears' owners have allowed it to continue. Since the late 1990s, a number of wildlife organizations have focused on this issue. Despite recent claims that it had been eradicated in India, a thorough assessment of its current status was lacking. We report on a 2010 nationwide survey of dancing bears in India and show that, despite significant achievement in reducing the number of bears involved, the practice is still prevalent, typically in rural, remote, or inaccessible areas (in at least 7 states across India). Therefore, it remains a conservation and animal welfare issue that needs to be addressed.
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Vol. 22 • No. 2