Bear baiting is a terribly cruel and inhumane blood sport that for the most part still persists in the Punjab and Sindh regions of northern Pakistan. Even though it has been illegal in Pakistan since 1890 — through the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act — routine bear baiting events are still being held in the name of public entertainment. It is especially prevalent in the rural tribal regions.
At a typical bear baiting event, a bear is tethered to a post in the middle of a stadium. The rope or chain is between 2-5 meters long. The bear’s claws have been blunted, his/her canine teeth removed and a nose ring inserted. At least two dogs are then let loose to attack the tethered bear. The dogs are removed when the bear submits; this is seen when the bear rolls on the ground to avoid further attack by the dogs. The bear is forced to do this up to as much as ten times per day.
The average life expectancy of a wild bear is 20 years. Bears used for bear baiting have significantly shortened lives, 5-7 years at best.
Bear Baiting: Blood Sport
Historically, bear baiting was popular in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who was so fond of the sport she overruled Parliament when they attempted to ban bear baiting on Sundays. The practice was introduced to south Asian cultures by British colonizers in the mid-nineteenth century. While the sport is illegal in Pakistan, it persists to this day. Land owners, called landlords in Pakistan, arrange bear baiting at village fairs.
Bear cubs are taken from the wild and held in captivity in small cages. Without adequate care and sustenance, the bears live lives of misery. Of course, the fight is manipulated in favor of the dogs because the bears are tied to a post and have their sharpest (canine) teeth removed and claws filed down to prevent the bear from adequately defending him/her self against the dogs.
“The physical and mental trauma these bears have endured means they will never be able to experience life in the wild. We need to provide them with the space, care, treatment and nourishment that they will need for the rest of their lives,” said Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WSPA’s Wildlife Veterinary Programmes Manager.
What Is Being Done
Some animal advocate groups are trying to help eradicate this despicable practice. WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals) has been working directly with the Bioresource Research Center of Pakistan (BRC) and Dr. Fakhar-i-Abbas, a dedicated anti-bear baiting campaigner, for the past decade in the attempt.
Watch Dr. Fakhar-i-Abbas talk about bear baiting in this WSPA video:
A sanctuary for rescued bears was built and housed 23 bears saved from the life of bear baiting. But it was destroyed in the massive 2010 floods. Only three bears survived the floods: Babu, Maylu and Sohrab.
It has been rebuilt and is now home to the three surviving bears and four others. BRC has identified about 70 more bears that are suffering the abuse of bear baiting in Pakistan. They need continued help to achieve their goal of completely stopping bear baiting in Pakistan.
Economics, Not Religion
It is important to understand bear baiting is NOT condoned by Islam. The Quran forbids inciting animals to fight each other. It’s the economics of it that allows bear baiting to continue in Pakistan.
Gypsies either purchase or poach bears from the wild and train them to perform. Historically, dancing bears were the trademark of Gypsies. Once bear baiting was introduced into Pakistan by the British colonizers in the mid-1800s, the captive bears were rented out to the landlords at village fairs and other events. The landlords charge admittance fees for those men and boys who attend the fights.
About the BRC
Providing sanctuary is only one of BRC’s goals. As with any issue that concerns animals and humans, it is multi-faceted. The BRC is actively addressing the following issues to help stop bear baiting in Pakistan:
- Awareness: A public awareness campaign for school children, dissemination of information at sports games, pet expos and village fairs.
- Religious Awareness: Encouraging religious leaders (Khateebs) to include animal welfare and anti-bear baiting in their sermons.
- Bear Census: Necessary to determine the scope of the problem.
- Landlord Networking: Communicating with landlords (land owners) in rural communities to develop cooperative relationships and give out anti-bear baiting information.
- Alternative Livelihood: Program to assist Gypsies with finding alternative sources of income so the bears are surrendered to the sanctuary.
- Anti-Poaching: Intends to reduce the demand for poaching of wildlife.
- Legislation: The current laws are not being enforced because the Anti-Cruelty Department, the agency cited to enforce the law, no longer exists; punishments are minimal and need to be maximized.
It should be noted that bear baiting is not specific to Pakistan. Last year, Care2 Blogger Sharon Seltzer reported on bear baying, another word for baiting, in South Carolina. HSUS did an undercover investigation and was instrumental in bringing public awareness to this vicious happening. South Carolina’s Senate Bill 253 is still sitting in the Fish, Game and Forestry committee.
How You can Help
Photo Credit: Picture of a bear playing at the sanctuary used with permission of BRC