For three to four centuries since the Mughal period up until 2009, sloth bears had been taken from the wild by India’s Kalandar community and made into “dancing bears” in the name of “tradition.”

However, as with many traditions that use animals, these bears suffered greatly, having their teeth filed down or broken off and a hole pierced through their nose or palate without anesthesia. Through this raw hole, a rope was then passed through, which a handler would use to force the bear to move and “dance” as he pleased.

Any bear that was captured for this “tradition” was never able to return to the wild, forever held captive on a short piece of rope.

Five years ago, on Dec. 18, 2009, the fate of India’s dancing bears finally changed, marking a historic day in their lives and for the animal protection movement as a whole.

It was on this day that India’s very last dancing bear, Raju, was surrendered to animal rescue organization Wildlife SOS’s Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center in Karnataka by his owner in exchange for a rehabilitation package that would allow him to earn a better living.

Before arriving at the center, Raju spent three years of his life at the end of a four foot rope, forced to “dance” and “perform in agonizing pain,” Wildlife SOS tells OGP.

[caption id="attachment_1481058592" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Free the Bears Fund / Facebook[/caption]

Once he arrived into Wildlife SOS’s care, the rope that pushed and tugged at him painfully for so long was finally removed, allowing him to begin his life anew in freedom and peace.

[caption id="attachment_1481058596" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Wildlife SOS[/caption]

Brought in at just 100 pounds, Raju maintains a healthy weight of 242 pounds today.

[caption id="attachment_1481058599" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Wildlife SOS[/caption]

Wildlife SOS reports that he “exemplifies the enduring spirit of a healthy sloth dear,” enjoying his days playing with friends…

[caption id="attachment_1481058601" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Free the Bears Fund / Facebook[/caption]

…and scouting for termites and ants like a regular sloth bear!

[caption id="attachment_1481058597" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Wildlife SOS[/caption]

Apparently, he’s one of the best termite hunters at the rescue center!

[caption id="attachment_1481058598" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Wildlife SOS[/caption]

Truly, Raju is amazing – to live through so much pain and still manage to embrace everyday of freedom to the fullest. What a stunning being!

[caption id="attachment_1481058593" align="aligncenter" width="800"]India’s Last Dancing Bear Raju Embraces Everyday of Freedom to the Fullest (PHOTOS) Free the Bears Fund / Facebook[/caption]

Please consider helping other dancing bears today through Wildlife SOS’s crowdfunding campaign aimed at ending the dancing bear trade in Nepal.

Lead image source: Free the Bears Fund / Facebook