Only a few kilometres from one of the worlds most visited monuments, The Taj Mahal, lies the Agra Bear Rescue Facility on the peaceful Yamuna River.
The centre houses and cares for 211 Indian sloth bears, all rescued from the horrendous former practice of ‘dancing bears’.
Historically, Indian Sloth bears cubs were stolen from their mothers, their muzzles pierced with a red-hot iron poker and a rope attached through their nose to force them on to their hind legs to ‘dance’; first for Mughal Emperors, then for local crowds and tourists. The bears endured a life of pain and suffering with health problems, cramped cages and poor food.
In 1996, research carried out by the non-governmental organisation Wildlife SOS revealed 1,200 dancing bears in India. Over the next 12 years, Wildlife SOS achieved the incredible task of rescuing and rehabilitating more than 600 bears until the last dancing bear was rescued in 2009.
We had a tour around the rescue centre in Agra, where groups of rescued bears roam in large enclosures, each group cared for by dedicated keepers. Their health is continually monitored as years of abuse and malnutrition, plus the physical scars of their nose piercings and canine teeth removal can cause them ongoing problems.
In a sad reminder of their past lives in servitude, their noses still show tears and holes where their ropes were tied and some bears still sway repeatedly, still haunted by years spent in confinement.
A visit to one of the centres two kitchens revealed the enormous scale of feeding over 200 large mammals; huge vats of wheat and millet porridge with honey and milk sat ready to be distributed to the bears for one of their three daily feeds, alongside boiled eggs, fresh fruit and cooked vegetables.
It was amazing to watch these majestic animals, finally free from their lives of painful performance and torture, now able to enjoy social interaction, good food, natural behaviours and a life in peaceful nature.
It’s an incredible success story for conservation and animal welfare in India and demonstrates what can be achieved in a relatively short space of time by dedicated and passionate individuals Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani and their team. Volunteers from around the world come to the facility to give their time to help feed and care for the bears, as well as raising awareness and much-needed funds for the ongoing work of the organisation.
Despite the trade in dancing bears being over, the threat of poaching of Indian Sloth Bears still remains. We met ‘Elvis’ who was recently confiscated on the border with Nepal on his way to China where there is still a lucrative market in bear ‘parts’ for medicine. Fortunately he was rescued in time and is now in quarantine at the centre where he is doing well.
You can visit the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and even arrange to spend a day with keepers to learn more about their work caring for the bears; http://wildlifesos.org/agra-bear-rescue-facility or follow their fantastic work with wildlife on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/wildlifesosindia
We asked Karl Pilkington to be a Patron for our trip...Unfortunately he said "Why would I want to do that, travellin's rubbish". Instead he gave us a signed DVD to auction off to raise some monies for our chosen charities. CLICK HERE then leave your bids as a comment, highest wins, Auction ends Friday 20th at 6:30pm. Enjoy.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes is commonly recognised as “the world’s greatest living explorer”. A title awarded to him by The Guinness Book of Records back in 1984, since then he has broken many more world records and led many more expeditions to remote regions. He is the only man alive EVER to have travelled around the Earth's circumpolar surface (more people have been to the Moon). In 2003, only a few months after a massive heart attack, 3-day coma and double bypass, Ranulph Fiennes (with Mike Stroud) achieved the first 7x7x7 (seven marathons in seven consecutive days on all seven continents)… And, if that wasn’t enough his expeditions have raised over £14 million for UK charities.
The above-mentioned feats are just the tip of the iceberg, please visit his website and learn more about this incredibly inspirational man. It is an honour to be able to print such a gratifying quote from someone so astounding; Emma and I can only strive to be as awesome as he is.
Thank you Sir Ranulph
Someone once told me I was a quitter, well today I quit my job and it feels great. With quitting my job comes the realisation that what we have been planning for the last year and a half is finally coming to fruition: in just 43 days Emma and I will embark on our adventure of a lifetime.
It is glaringly apparent that we still have a lot of work to do; the lists are longer than ever and every woken minute is spent thinking about the trip. For me the planning and preparation are half the experience and I have loved every minute of it.
Now that both our work places know we are leaving we can seriously step up our promotional media and hopefully get some last minute local sponsorship; although I’m not holding out much hope. Of the 150+ local companies we approached only 4 had the courtesy to even reply with an answer (incidentally all said ‘No’).
If anyone is interested in sponsoring us, you can download our local sponsorship pack below.
We have recently been talking to Sylvie Wilson, president of the charitable organisation, “Le geste d’amour” (the gesture of love). The charity was established following the devastating Tsunami of 2004 to assist the people of Sitinoraiti in Sumatra.
Their vision is to provide a better general quality of life for the children of Sitinoraiti and in 2009 an orphanage “Lembaga Panti Asuhan Sitinoraiti” (Institute to help the children of Sitinoraiti) was inaugurated. They strive to provide a secure, healthy and caring environment; promoting the children’s educational and social development.
The orphanage is located in Pangururan in Northern Sumatra, Indonesia and occupies an area of 6000m² on the border of Lake Toba.
The objective is not only to house, educate and care for the children, but to continue to help them into work. During our month’s stay at Sitinoraiti we hope to assist with the general day-to-day running of the centre, coordinate various educational programmes and arrange leisure pursuits and English conversation classes.
With our ’home’ on our roof and our vehicle making us completely self-sufficient, we will not be dependent on the resources of the charity projects we visit so can give 100%.
To find out more about the work of Sitinoraiti Orphanage please click here.
It is important to both Andy and I that we are not merely tourists on a whistle-stop tour within each country we visit. We want to experience what life in each country is really like; laugh with local people, stuff ourselves with regional foods, get drunk on foreign boozes, become lost in wilderness realms and stumble upon indigenous wildlife. On the same note, we are conscious of it being a one-way arrangement; all take and no give. For this reason, we have decided to team up and work with a few local non-governmental organisations in several of the countries on our 800 days itinerary. Our trip is already a low-cost endeavour so unfortunately any financial support for these charity organisations would be minimal. What we can offer however, is our time and extensive knowledge (well, we have plenty of time). We are willing to help wherever needed and are focusing on community based educational, social and environmental projects. We are hoping to arrange running educational courses or groups in our area or expertise. For myself, I will run short courses on local environment and wildlife (collecting bugs, measuring plants, identifying birds). Andy will run art workshops which could include drawing, painting, textiles, photography, woodwork and sculpture.
We have recently confirmed our first 800 days local project partnership with Emmanuel Children’s Home in Kerala, Southern India http://www.emmanuelchildrenshome.com/ . This project was established in 2000 with 12 children; the home now has 160 residents including orphaned children, vulnerable young women, boys and girls from extremely impoverished single parent families and youngsters with physical disabilities. The home provides shelter, food, education and security for poor and disadvantaged kids irrespective of caste, creed, religion or social and financial status. Children who come from distressed or broken homes are provided with special care for their physical, mental and emotional health, nutritional, developmental and educational needs.
We are looking forward to spending at least a month with all of our 800 days local partners and being able to give a little bit back.