The cruel hobby of bear baiting is more medieval torture theatre than actual game, but it has snaked its way through the centuries under the guise of being a real sport. Much like dog fighting and cock fighting, bear baiting events are held at the behest of a crowd of delighted onlookers hoping to cash in on the bloodshed of animal versus animal.
As can be guessed by its name, during bear baiting, bears become the victims of a fight that pits them against dogs trained specifically to attack and kill them. Common in areas throughout Asia, China, and Pakistan, bear baiting contests have relied heavily on secrecy to maintain an equal level of popularity throughout the years. As many as 2,000 onlookers on average congregate to areas of Pakistan’s countryside in order to place their bets on their animal of choice as part of this organized crime. Put on by wealthy and local landowners who buy and train dogs (usually bull terriers) specifically to take on black bears, bear baiting events can mean a hefty profit for those who get involved.
In an average event, bears—who are no older than seven years old, if they are lucky—are tethered to a post in the middle of an open arena. Dogs are then released, usually in groups of two or more, and immediately converge on the helpless bear. As the dogs bite and lash at the restrained animal, the bear has no way to defend itself against the attack since its teeth and claws have been removed long beforehand. The dog that manages to grab a hold of the bear’s head area long enough to bring the bear down is declared the victor. Of course, there is a way for the bear to win, although it is extremely rare. If the bear remains standing, then it wins the match. But as excitement swells around the fight, other dogs may be unleashed in order to join in, shoving the odds well against the bear.
Believed to have originated when Pakistan was still under British rule, the game itself has changed little. Today, as in the years before, bears are picked up as cubs whose parents have been killed by poachers. Travelling in groups of gypsies, the animals are rented out to landlords in order to earn all parties concerned some extra money. Native to this region in Paksitan, Asiatic black bears are exclusively used for these bear baiting events. Listed as a vulnerable species currently in decline on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List, Asiatic black bears were last estimated in 2006 to number approximately 1000 in the Pakistan region.
Leading the charge for wildlife conservation, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has already joined forces with the Pakistan Biodiversity Research Centre (PBRC) to take action in eliminating bear baiting contests. Through campaigning and education, the organizations have helped to spread the word that not only is bear baiting an unnecessary means of earning money, it is illegal and is discordant with Islamic teachings, which specifically forbids it.
First tipped off to the practice in 1993 by Dr. Inayat Chaudry of the Habitat Integrated Pakistan, who witnessed such contests in the Pinjals and Sindh areas of Pakistan, the WSPA has worked endlessly to expose these crimes. Through their work, the agency has already raised the money necessary to construct the Kund Park sanctuary as a home and rehabilitation center for bears confiscated by officials.
But there is still plenty of work that still needs to be done. In order to ensure the end of bear baiting in Pakistan, government officials need to pass a law that would make it illegal for anyone in the country to own bears. Although it may seem a small step, it is a landmark move that will help the cause tremendously. To help eliminate bear baiting in Pakistan and urge the Director General of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency to take action, sign the petition here.
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