Disturbing footage taken in July by WSPA member society the Bioresource Research Centre (BRC) has proven that bear baiting events are taking place in Punjab and resulted in the investigation of wildlife officials for corruption.
For two years, the Punjab Department of Wildlife and Parks has denied that bear baiting takes place in the region, refusing to accept BRC’s continuous undercover investigations into this illegal activity.
The department’s complaints and denials have been in danger of undermining work to protect bears. "In the past years the Punjab Wildlife and Park authority have frequently ignored information we forwarded on bear baiting and thus our request to stop these events were sometimes not very successful," explains Dr Fakhar-i-Abbas, Executive Director of BRC.
Despite this, since January 2008 the organisation has been able to prevent 135 of 172 known bear baiting events, protecting both bears and dogs.
But while their holistic strategy (including education, alternative livelihood programmes and working with local mosques) means bear baiting is on the wane, BRC realised they needed definitive proof that this remains an urgent animal welfare problem in Punjab.
BRC’s focus is on preventing these violent encounters. This time they attended a baiting undercover to gather indisputable proof that this blood sport – which makes landowning hosts wealthy – continues.
The images and footage taken on 17 July 2009 clearly show dogs being encouraged to attack tethered bears. The audience are likely to have placed bets, despite animal cruelty being forbidden in the Islamic faith.
Even BRC, with their wealth of experience, were shocked at how young one bear appears to be.
Attempting to remove bears during or immediately after a baiting event is dangerous – those with an interest in the profits may be armed. Police were present at this particular event as spectators, failing to enforce animal protection law.
Instead, BRC is in contact with the bears’ owners and will explore options for alternative livelihoods with them, in hopes of removing the animals. This tactic works: in the last 18 months alone owners have been convinced to allow 19 bears to retire from the horror of baiting.
Those bears now reside in the Kund Park sanctuary, funded by WSPA supporters and praised by Pakistan’s Minister of Environment during a visit in March.
Removing an obstacle to bear welfare
The footage was reported in Pakistan’s Daily Times; this should help mitigate any damage to anti-bear baiting work caused by the Department of Wildlife and Parks’ denials.
Importantly, this evidence has resulted in the authorities withdrawing complaints against BRC and suspending the relevant officers and managers. The province’s anti-corruption council is now reviewing the case.
WSPA’s Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Wildlife Veterinary Programmes Manager, said: "The latest developments illustrate the efficiency of BRC's undercover monitoring work, unmasking a case of corruption on district level. It can be hoped that the relevant wildlife authorities will now cooperate with greater dedication to rule out this cruel practice."
Pakistan is the only nation where bear baiting is known to persist. With your support, WSPA and BRC aim to eradicate it, and the associated dog abuse, by 2012.