Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wildlife Conservation: New refuge opens in Pakistan for rescued bears

Just three months after the devastating floods in Pakistan, a new sanctuary opened in Balkasar to provide a safe haven for 60-70 bears who are still being used for bear baiting – a cruel and illegal blood sport. The sanctuary's first residents are Babu, Sohrab and Maylu – the three bears rescued from Kund Park, Pakistan's only other refuge for fighting bears, which was destroyed during the floods in August.

The new Balkasar Sanctuary is funded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and run by one of its member organizations, the Bioresource Research Centre, Pakistan (BRC). It is located in the Punjab region, away from flood plains, and features many natural aspects of a bear's habitat, including more than 16 acres of trees and long grass.

"This sanctuary will provide space for all the remaining bear baiting bears in Pakistan and we hope it becomes a model project for managing bears in sanctuaries," said Dr. Fakhar-i-Abbas, BRC Chief Executive. "It is a miracle that, so soon after we lost our only sanctuary, we have a new one ready for our bears."

In August, 20 bears tragically lost their lives at Kund Park during the country's floods. However, the BRC team was able to rescue Babu, Sohrab and Maylu from the disaster area and relocate them to Balkasar, where another sanctuary was already under construction.

Shortly after – despite losing their homes and all of their possessions, like so many Pakistanis – BRC and Kund Park staff worked together to quickly open the new sanctuary. Determined staff, such as Malik Ghulam Sarwar, even moved across the country to Balkasar to rebuild their lives, alongside those of the bears in their care.

"Overnight, my family lost our home, workplace and school – other staff members have also lost their homes and family crops, and even still have families in flood-affected areas," says Sarwar, who is now the manager of Balkasar Sanctuary. "BRC worked to bring us all near the Balkasar Sanctuary. After managing to resettle my family to a certain extent, I rushed back to work. Now, we are trying to get back on our feet again."

With WSPA support, BRC plans to rescue another three bears from baiting before the end of this year. Those bears will be brought to the Balkasar Sanctuary to live out their lives in a natural and peaceful environment.

"Thanks to WSPA donors, this new sanctuary will allow us to provide a safe haven for all remaining bear baiting bears," says Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WSPA Veterinary Wildlife Programmes Manager. "Together, with the dedicated and professional work of BRC, I am very optimistic that we will succeed in eradicating this cruel practice once and for all."

Source: World Society for the Protection of Animals