Tragedy at Balkasar

Sawan before being handed over to BRC staff

Sawan before being handed over to BRC staff

The celebrations at Balkasar, as three new bears were rescued earlier this year, proved to be short-lived as Sawan and Azad died while still in quarantine facilities. Eight bears now remain at Pakistan’s Balkasar sanctuary for bears rescued from a life of bear baiting.

Sawan and Azad were amongst the most recently rescued bears, along with Nita, who is in good health and continues on her path to full rehabilitation. Staff at the Balkasar sanctuary, managed by WSPA’s local partner, Bioresource Research Centre (BRC), worked tirelessly both in the lead up to their rescue, as well as in the weeks after their transfer to the sanctuary, to try and keep the bears healthy and safe.

Quarantined for care

BRC staff adhere to a rigorous quarantine regime for all new bears to avoid the risk of new bears passing on any pre-existing health problems they might have to the bears already housed in the sanctuary. Quarantine allows sufficient time for the symptoms of any disease not immediately identified to become evident, and also allows the closest possible monitoring of the bears’ health. 

Once in the sanctuary, Azad, Sawan and Nita were kept in the quarantine area and monitored so staff could be certain of their health, their disposition and their suitability for being released into the open grounds of the sanctuary, along with the other bears there. While BRC staff kept a close eye on the bears, providing treatment for possible illnesses as well as special nutrients to help build their immunity, Azad and Sawan started to show signs of pre-existing conditions. Despite the best efforts of the vets, both bears died within 12 days of each other.

Even with the best possible treatment and care, sadly many bears rescued from a life of baiting do not reach old age, as they are prone to weak immune systems and underlying medical conditions sustained from their previous lives.  

Ascertaining cause of death

The vets at BRC have carried out thorough post-mortem analysis, to ascertain the cause of death and also to ensure that there is no danger of any disease being passed to the other Balkasar residents, especially Nita, who was rescued at the same time. They ran extensive blood profiling tests while the bears were still alive, in order to rule out all possibilities, including infections, parasitic diseases and even poisoning.

Through a differential diagnosis, the sanctuary’s resident vet was able to rule out other possibilities and surmised that that the most likely cause of death for Sawan was cardiovascular failure combined with liver problems and excessive bile stones. In Azad’s case, liver problems caused severe metabolic problems. Both of these conditions may be attributed to the malnutrition and severely inadequate conditions they endured during captivity, before they were rescued and brought to the sanctuary.

Despite initial concerns that both bears may have had a common, possibly contagious disease, the sanctuary vet found no evidence of any such condition. They are further reassured by Nita’s continued good health.

While Azad and Sawan have now been laid to rest, buried deep in the grounds of the sanctuary, Nita continues to receive special attention in the quarantine area. She will soon be introduced to Chowti, the blind bear, in the introduction area before joining one of the main enclosures, as soon as she can safely be released from quarantine.

Click here for more background information about bear baiting.

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