It's going to be a happy new year for Rangeela and Sridevi: A wildlife group says it has rescued the sloth bears from owners in Nepal who forced them to dance to entertain crowds, National Geographic reports. The bears were swiped from the wild at a young age and their owners "had pierced their noses with a burning hot rod and shoved a rope through it so he could control them," World Animal Protection says. The group says the bears are believed to have been the last two dancing bears in Nepal, which officially banned the practice 40 years ago. Police confiscated the bears after the owners were tracked down in a remote village. The animals are now at a national park in Nepal and will be given a permanent home at a wildlife sanctuary next year.
The rescued sloth bears, 15 and 17 years old, showed signs of trauma including cowering and paw-sucking, wildlife officials say. Mary Hutton, founder of the Free the Bears group, tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that dancing bears are generally kept in "appalling" conditions, often by owners who can't afford to feed them more than a few pieces of bread a day. The group says it has helped end the practice in several other countries, including India, where more than 600 bears were freed during a 15-year campaign. Wildlife protection groups say a major part of the effort is finding new employment for the owners of dancing bears, which is why two of the owners in Nepal were given temporary jobs helping to look after the animals instead of being charged or fined. (Read more animal cruelty stories.)