WSPA and our local partner in Pakistan, the Bioresource Research Centre (BRC), have rescued two more bears – a female Himalayan brown bear and a male Asiatic black bear – as part of the WSPA funded alternative livelihood programme.
Our alternative livelihood programme gives bear owners a new, sustainable source of income in exchange for the freedom of their bear and is crucial for bringing a permanent end to the culture of bear baiting in Pakistan.
These two bears are now in quarantine at the WSPA funded Balkasar bear sanctuary and once recovered from their injuries will join the current residents, living out the remainder of their lives in the beautiful grass land enclosures.
Helping people helps animals in Pakistan
Since WSPAs partnership with the BRC began in 1997, together we have reduced the number of bears being used in the brutal ‘sport’ of baiting to around 50. A key part of this success has been the alternative livelihood (AL) programme run by dedicated BRC staff.
Using the experience WSPA gained from working to phase out dancing bears in India, we’ve worked with BRC to create an alternative livelihood programme specific to Pakistan. As keeping a bear is not illegal everywhere in Pakistan and legal enforcement is often insufficient, the AL programme provides an incentive to the bear owner to voluntarily give the bear a new life of relative freedom at the WSPA funded sanctuary.
Bear owners and their families often depend completely on the income brought in by the bear fighting in matches, making any exchange a sensitive process that requires many months of discussions to build trust and eventually carry out an exchange.
Cash is never given in exchange for a bear. Instead, the AL team help a bear owner choose an alternative profession with the aim of providing him and his family with a steady and sustainable source of income.
We then provide specific training to help ensure the success of the business and closely monitor the ex-owner for at least two years to make sure he does not re-engage with owning a bear. Incentives, such as education for children, are also offered after a certain period to further reduce the risk of re-offending.
The AL programme is costly and time-consuming work for BRC and WSPA, but the success of the overall work clearly shows it is the only sustainable and humane solution to protecting bears and ending this practice for good.
Vidaar, meaning ‘forest warrior’
Name: Vidaar, meaning ‘forest warrior’
Species: Asiatic black bear
Age: 7 years
Weight: 122kg on arrival
After being discovered weak and starving during BRC investigations, this large bear was identified as a priority bear in need of rescue in 2012. After many months of negotiations with his owner he agreed to give the bear his freedom in exchange for a general store.
Vidaar is in very poor condition and health and had been used in baiting for nearly four years. He has suffered significant injuries during matches.
On exchange, the rescue team noted that part of his lower lip is missing; likely torn off in one of the many events he fought in. Half of his left ear has also been cut off, believed to be a mark of identification. His fur is very ragged.
After a 7-8 hour drive the team made it to the sanctuary. Vidaar was sedated, his wounds were carefully cleaned and his nose and neck rope were removed. The BRC tell us that Vidaar is a very active bear but baiting has made him wary and aggressive towards humans. The team is noticing improvements in his mood as each day passes and he is now eating well and particularly enjoys nuts.
Lucia, meaning ‘light’
Name: Lucia, meaning ‘light’
Species: Himalayan brown bear
Age: 6 years
Weight: 88kg on arrival
This female bear was unknown to the BRC and was discovered on a recent trip. She has been used for about a year in baiting.
Bear baiting has taken a significant psychological toll on this bear, recently named Lucia, and on arrival at the WSPA funded sanctuary she was incredibly fearful and distressed by the site of people and cowered in her cage.
The team carefully sedated Lucia before giving her a full medical check. Her nose ring and neck rope were removed before she was carefully placed into a quarantine cage. The team report that she is now eating well and particularly enjoys eating carrots. Lucia appears curious about other bears and the BRC expect her to integrate well with the other bears once released into the main sanctuary enclosure.