Bear Necessities

Senior bears receive specialized care at Wildlife SOS Rescue Centers in India. Most of these geriatric bears have been rescued from illegal dancing bear trade and have since been under the lifetime care of veterinary experts at Wildlife SOS.

The practice of dancing bears was a centuries-old tradition that inflicted terrible cruelty on thousands of highly vulnerable sloth bears in India.Most of these bears have been kept in inhumane conditions for years, faced physical mutilation, been forced to walk for miles on hot tarred roads and suffered a life at the end of a short rope. Cruel instruments and barbaric methods were used to keep the bears under control and prevent them from attacking their handlers.

  The bears spend most of their day soaking up the warm winter sun                                                                            

Wildlife SOS is internationally known to have brought an end to the exploitation of sloth bears across India and for successfully rescuing 628 bears from the ‘dancing bear’ trade. Although their days of ‘dancing’ and performing were long behind them, the bears were unfit to return to the wild as they all suffered from severe physical and psychological trauma, as well as chronic medical problems.

The Wildlife SOS vets conducting dental Xray on a sloth bear

These bears were kept in extremely stressful conditions, cramped up in unhygienic environments with little attention to their nutrition and veterinary care. Under such circumstances, the animal becomes more susceptible to contracting diseases and viruses such as tuberculosis and many also suffer from kidney and liver disorders, arthritis and dental problems due to years of suffering and abuse.

The Wildlife SOS centers have state of the art equipment like Thermal Imaging Camera, Digital X-ray, Dental suite, Ptah Lab & Operation Theater to ensure optimal care and treatment

The average lifespan of a sloth bear in the wild is 15-20 years but under captive care they survive up to 20-25 years.At 37, Gulabo is the oldest living sloth bear under Wildlife SOS’s care, and her astounding longevity can be credited to advanced veterinary medicine and specialized geriatric care. She had spent over 20 years of her life as a dancing bear, forced to perform unnatural tricks  for people, on the streets of Bhopal. Been brought up in a harsh environment had left her weak, malnourished and even partially blind. Today, Gulabo is leading a safe and comfortable life, with access to advanced health care facilities.

Generally, bears aged 16 years and above are considered as candidates forgeriatric care, depending on factors such as their health condition, range of activity and feed intake. Older bears have different physical and emotional needs from that of their younger counterparts. They go through behavioral changes with many taking on a calmer demeanor. Their interest in playing with enrichment and interactions with other bears reduces as well. We have to first understand these changes and needs, to help provide the most appropriate care for them.

 37 year old Gulabo is now living a healthy and happy life at the Van Vihar Bear Rescue Center

Osto-arthritis is a common ailment amongst the aging sloth bears. This often makes it difficult for them to access their enclosures, as they are uncomfortable walking long distances. Therefore, the fields are regularly sprinkled with water to keep the ground soft and muddy, which makes it easier for them to walk on. The bear keepers also trim their claws to ensure that they do not hurt themselves while walking or playing. The bears are prescribed a special diet that is richer in proteins, calcium and fiber to help boost their metabolism and strengthen their immunity. Additionally, they are given multivitamins and nutrient supplements such as liver tonics, Omega 3 fatty acids and hematinics. The Ngo’s staff also takes extra measures to ensure that the bears remain snug during the cold winter months. Individual bear dens have designated heaters and straw bedding. The bears enjoy a special winter diet comprising of hot porridge with additional quantity of milk along with jaggery (molasses) and puffed rice balls.

                     Gulabo was rescued by Wildlife SOS in 2006 and was placed under their lifetime care at the Van Vihar Bear Rescue Facility

Wildlife SOS aims to help these bears overcome the negative impact on their physical and psychological well-being by providing them a high degree of veterinary care and to give a chance to simply be bears again!


About the Author /

Arinita Sandilya is working with conservation charity Wildlife SOS as their Press and Communications Officer. She enjoys exploring nature through the lens of her camera.


  • Mitali

    November 13, 2019

    Nikki… really well written article on bear abuse….my heart goes out to these animals whom we have no right to keep in such cruel captivity

  • Self H N Bhuyan

    November 14, 2019

    Nikki, very well written article covering the extent of cruelty some people impose on these animals including bears via a vis your NGO’s lovely excellent care for the rescued ones . Wish you all in the organisation Best Wishes for a better tomorrow. All of you stay blessed 👏

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