[Ed. Note: Bear Baiting: A bear will be tethered to a rope 2–5 meters long in the center of an arena to prevent escape. Bears’ canine teeth are often removed and their claws may be filed down giving them less advantage over the dogs. Each fight lasts around three minutes. If the dogs pull the bear to the ground they are said to win the fight. Bears usually have to undergo several fights during each day's events.]
A new sanctuary to house Pakistan’s remaining baiting bears has now officially opened.
Its first inhabitants, the three bears rescued from the country’s devastating floods, are already there.
Balkasar Sanctuary is located in a relatively dry area of Pakistan’s Punjab region, an area that was spared from the floods in August. It will provide a refuge for the remaining Asian black bears that are still being used in bear baiting, a cruel and illegal blood sport. Since the floods destroyed Kund Park, Pakistan’s only other refuge for baiting bears, Balkasar has assumed an even greater importance.
Seven hectares of natural habitat
Covering an area of seven hectares, Balkasar is set away from flood plains and close to the capital, Islamabad. It was chosen for the many natural aspects of bears’ habitat that it provides and it was the best habitat that WSPA and Biodiversity Resource Centre (BRC), our Pakistani member organization, could find.
“It provides space for all the remaining bear baiting bears in Pakistan and is a model project to present to wildlife authorities showing how bears in captivity should be managed,” says Dr. Fakhar-i-Abbas, BRC Chief Executive.
A new beginning
The opening of Balkasar demonstrates the dedication and commitment of the Kund Park BRC team and staff who, like so many Pakistanis, despite losing their homes and possessions have remained committed to the cause. Many staff and their families have moved to Balkasar, taking up positions alongside local community members. They are rebuilding their lives and the lives of the bears in their care.
It has been the dedication of the BRC staff that has enabled Balkasar to be opened at this time. With WSPA support, by the end of 2010, they plan to rescue three more bears from a life of attack by dogs and bring them to the sanctuary to live out their lives in its natural and peaceful environment.
Rescuing bears from baiting is a lengthy and complicated process. It involves many negotiations with the bear’s owner to identify and then construct a viable alternative livelihood for them. After persuading an owner to surrender their bear, BRC then provides training for setting up and running the new business.
Balkasar offers hope and a means with which to end bear baiting in Pakistan.
“Thanks to WSPA donors, Balkasar allows us to provide space for all remaining bear baiting bears,” says Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WSPA Veterinary Wildlife Programmes Manager.