In late July 2010 the floods in Pakistan, caused by the ‘heaviest monsoon flooding since 1929’ resulted in the complete submersion of the WSPA-funded sanctuary in Kund Park, and the tragic death of 20 bears that were housed there.
Despite the daunting conditions, staff from WSPA’s local partner organisation, the Bioresource Research Centre (BRC) launched heroic rescues, saving three bears and transporting them over barely-navigable roads to Balkasar, where a new sanctuary was still being created.
Hope for more bears
That same heroism has seen BRC recover completely from last year’s setback, and continue their work challenging the age-old tradition of bear baiting, rescuing more bears from this cruel practice and bringing them to the sanctuary at Balkasar where they live the rest of their lives in well-looked after freedom. There are now ten bears being looked after at Balkasar, an astounding success considering that it is less than the year since the sanctuary was fully completed.
The most recent to have been rescued and rehomed in Balkasar are Azad, Sawan and Nita. They all spent the first few years of their lives being forced to fight at cruel bear baiting events, but now, safely ensconced in the Balkasar sanctuary, their injuries are being treated as they prepare for a life of freedom.
Campaigning to end the practice
Although bear rescues are the most dramatic high points in BRC’s work, these are usually the culmination of long periods of hard work. In the first six months of 2011, BRC’s bear baiting event-monitoring teams have travelled to as many as 229 locations (fairs, private grounds or home-villages of landlords known to support bear baiting) to investigate reports of the practice. Thanks to their vigilance, they managed to stop 11 of the 16 events being organised in public fairs.
They have also kept up a sustained campaign to convince powerful landlords to stop supporting bear baiting events, and have invited some of them to visit the sanctuary. These visits will help showcase the contrast between the cruelty of bear baiting and the idyllic life in the sanctuary.
A new life, a new livelihood
While Azad, Sawan and Nita acclimatise to their new lives, BRC staff continue to follow up with the families that used to own the bears, to make sure they are adapting to their new lives too. Alternative livelihoods – complete with investment, training and support – were provided to the families of Ajmal Hussain (who owned Sawan) and Zarwar Hussain (who owned Azad and Nita), to ensure that they would not consider reverting to bear baiting.
Although Azad, Sawan and Nita have found new lives, there are other bears that still desperately need to be rescued, other families that will need BRC’s guidance to end their dependence on bear baiting and move on to cruelty-free lives.