Landlords [a British colonial term, meaning land owner] in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab and Sindh enjoy a particularly bloody form of entertainment: bear baiting. The rules are simple: a pair of trained fighting dogs are unleashed on a tethered bear whose claws and sharpest teeth have been removed.
The practice of bear baiting was reportedly introduced in Southern Asia by British colonisers in the 18th century
. It was gradually abandoned in all countries except Pakistan, where they are staged during events organised by regional landlords to impress and entertain the general public. The bears are illegally captured by poachers, and then trained into submission by their gypsy owners.
Each fight lasts about three minutes, and the dogs are said to ‘win’ if they have managed to make the bear roll over on the ground. Bears are often injured, but seldom killed – they are much too valuable for their owners to let them die. Some bears are made to fight up to ten times a day.
Although the bear baiting was banned in Pakistan in 1980
by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it continues to prevail in deeply rural tribal regions.
Animal protection groups like the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) have worked with Pakistani authorities to try to eradicate the practice. According to the WSPA, education campaigns and crackdowns on bear-baiting events have helped stop 80% of planned bear baiting events since 2001, and led to the successful rescue of 40 bears
. Nevertheless, the group estimates there are some 70 bears still being made to fight in Pakistan.
The Kund Bear Sanctuary was set up in 2000 near the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar to provide a safe haven for baited bears that were confiscated from their owners. In a tragic turn of events, however, 20 out of the 23 bears it hosted drowned during the massive floods
that hit the region in the summer of 2010. The surviving three have been relocated to a new shelter in the northern part of Punjab, where there is no risk of flooding.