Dentist speaks of ‘magical’ work with bears

Paul Cassar working with the bears
Paul Cassar working with the bears

MOST people get grumpy when they have to go to the dentist but Paul Cassar had to deal with some really grizzly patients on a recent charity trip.

Paul, who is a dentist at Grange Dental Surgery, in Chichester, travelled more than 6,200 miles to India to look after the teeth of former dancing bears.

Having studied biology at university, before training as a dentist Paul had always harboured an interest in wildlife.

When he became a trustee of International Animal Rescue (IAR), a charity saving animals from suffering around the world, he was able to combine his two interests.

Describing his experience in India, Paul said: “It’s magical.

“Although there is a lot of hard work involved – during my last trip we treated 23 bears in five days, spending at least five hours with every animal.

“Each trip lasts about 12 to 14 days, so the experience is extremely tiring, but definitely worthwhile.

“Seeing the positive results is so motivating, as well as knowing that the treated bears are continuing to live long and happy lives in a safe environment.”


Dancing bears in India have their teeth smashed with a hammer when they are young cubs to make them easier to control and protect their handlers from being bitten.

The remaining roots become inflamed and infected, causing intense pain, but the seeping wounds are left untreated by the Kalandar nomads who use the bears to beg money from tourists.

As well as treating the animals’ immediate problems, Paul and the IAR team also provide training to local teams so they can help more rescued bears in the future.

“During our trip, myself and other members of the IAR helped to train the local sanctuary vets so they can take care of the bears’ teeth while we’re away,” he said.

“Passing on these invaluable skills means that more animals will be able to receive the best possible dental care in the future.”

International Animal Rescue

This was Paul’s eighth trip to southeast Asia since 2003.

He was recruited to treat the bears after Alan Knight, chief executive officer of IAR, heard about their plight.

Paul went to great lengths to research how best to treat the animals and to acquire the specialist tools for the job, with some cases requiring hours of surgery.

The terrible state of the bears’ teeth and gums made it clear their suffering had not ended completely when the ropes were removed from their noses, with festering infections in their mouths causing them discomfort and pain.

In 2005, he was working with specialist dental vet Lisa Milella at IAR’s rehabilitation sanctuary in Agra when it was visited by comedian Bill Bailey.

Bill had given up his time to travel to India, learn about the plight of the dancing bears and the work of IAR and Wildlife SOS to rescue them.

Speaking at the time, he described the work as a ‘wonderful experience’.

“The dental work was fascinating and it was also very touching to see how much the team of vets and handlers at the sanctuary care about the bears,” he said.

Anyone who would like to find out more about the work of the IAR can visit

Or, for more information about Grange Dental Surgery, go to

Saving animals around the world

International Animal Rescue does exactly what its name says – saving animals from suffering around the world.

As well as caring for former dancing bears in India, the charity rescues primates from animal traffickers in Indonesia and treats stray dogs and cats in developing countries.

Wherever possible, the charity aims to return rehabilitated animals to the wild but, if that’s not possible, it gives them a safe haven for life.

At the start of this month, a young orangutan which witnessed the torture and slaughter of its mother at the hands of villagers in a remote part of Borneo was returned to the wild.

Three-year-old Peni was rescued in 2010, after a period of rehabilitation was socialised with other young orangutans and frequently observed in the forested play area behaving like a wild orangutan, making nests in the trees and rarely spending time on the ground.

It gradually became clear Peni was a good candidate for reintroduction, never becoming accustomed to people. She was released with a sub-cutaneous tracking device so that she can be followed and monitored.

Karmele Llano Sanchez, executive director of IAR Indonesia, said: “Peni’s story was a horrific one.

“We weren’t sure whether she would even survive the trauma of watching her mother being beaten and dying before her eyes.

“However, we’re thrilled to see how well she is coping with her new-found freedom.

“Now we just pray that she stays safe and grows up into a beautiful wild orangutan – and one day has a baby of her own.”

Chief executive Alan Knight OBE said: “Peni is the first orangutan to be released from our new Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre: indeed, she is the first orangutan to undergo lengthy rehabilitation and socialisation in our care and then be released, full stop.

“The plan is that she will be the first of many.”

IAR relies entirely on public donations to fund its work.