National Geographic : 1994 Jul
On Television Dancing to a Requiem: Lament for the Bears In the cool mountain forests of western Turkey, a brown bear nurses at his mother's side. Poachers appear. The mother is killed and the cub sold to Gypsies, who pierce his nose and insert a steel ring, probably the first of many in a hard career. The animal's ordeal has begun; next he must sub mit-likely beaten into obedience. Black Cloud, a nine-month-old cub undergoing training (above right), will soon join other bears, such as a chained older veteran (above), and earn his keep dancing on the streets of Istanbul. Producer Sarah Cunliffe first learned of the bears' plight through a newspaper advertisement spon sored by the Libearty Campaign. This international effort was launched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) to rescue dancing bears, many of them starving and blind. A common spectacle in medieval Europe, dancing bears still shuffle on city streets in eastern Europe and Asia. Tourists pay about $15 for a snapshot, encouraging a system that is both illegal and cruel. EXPLORER's "Last of the Dancing Bears" goes undercover to expose this aspect of the illegal trade in brown bears, whose num bers have been severely reduced by poaching and habitat loss. The film reveals the hideous conditions that exploited bears must endure. WSPA official Victor Watkins and his team penetrate Gypsy camps with hidden video cameras to dis cover captive bears. Handheld cam eras record dangerous raids with Greek and Turkish police to confis cate the animals. In one night action, 12 bears chained to trees in a park in Istanbul are rescued. A spotlight shines on Black Cloud, and the cub is freed to begin a journey to a new life-in a sanctuary akin to his natural habitat. To Gypsies the trade of dancing bears is an ancient tradition. One owner says, "I want my sons to do the same work I do. If they take the bears away from us, I don't know what we'll do. I don't know how we'll live." WSPA supports long-range plans to find Gypsies other kinds of work, but Victor Watkins vows that if dancing bears reappear in Greece or Turkey this summer, Operation Libearty will act again to end the macabre dance. "Last of the Dancing Bears" airs July 10 on EXPLORER, TBS Super station, 7p.m. ET. NATIONALGEOGRAPHICEXPLORERAIRS ON TBS SUPERSTATION,SUNDAYSAT7 P.M. ET . NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSPECIALSAIR ON PBS; CHECKLOCALLISTINGS. FOR INFORMATIONON NATIONALGEOGRAPHICVIDEOS, CALL1-800-343-6610, MONDAYTHROUGHFRIDAY,8 A.M . TO5 P.M. ET, IN THE U. S. ANDCANADAONLY.