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A convert from cruelty: former baiter gives up last bear

Sep 19, 2008

The last bear with handler

WSPA member society the Bioresource Research Center of Pakistan (BRC) has seen its persistence and professionalism pay off again this month, as a former bear baiter gave his last remaining bear the chance of a better life at the Kund Park sanctuary.

BRC’s effective local landlord networking approach had convinced Sufi Muhammad Rafique – once one of the most determined bear baiting organizers in Sindh province – to turn his back on this brutal sport in 2005. But when he relinquished his animals to sanctuary life, he kept one last bear, a cub.

BRC never forgot the young bear. They have worked tirelessly to convince Mr Rafique that it should be free to experience a more natural life in a protected environment.

Local solutions for local problems

Although bear baiting is illegal in Pakistan, the powerful event organizers (most frequently local landlords) are protected from the law by their position in the community.

Rather than fight the local culture, BRC’s director Dr. Fakhar–i–Abbas and his team have harnessed the influence possessed by landlords for positive ends, using regional hierarchies to protect the bears and dogs savaged in this violent sport.

The BRC’s landlord networking team works by putting landlords who are against bear baiting – usually because Islam explicitly criticizes animal cruelty – in touch with those who still enable the sport, letting peer-to-peer discussions lay the foundation for removing the bears.

This approach works, and keeps working. Sufi Muhammad Rafique is just one of the landlords who has turned his back on bear baiting following the network’s intervention, setting a high-powered local example by sending his animals to a safe home where they can recover and even thrive.

With your continued support, ending bear baiting altogether is a real possibility. Just last month, BRC won over more regional landlords and convinced four owners to send their bears to WSPA’s Kund Park sanctuary. All four bears were in very bad condition and required medical treatment, but are now improving steadily. BRC gave two of the former bear owners motorcycle rickshaws – an alternative, sustainable livelihood prevents families turning back to animal cruelty.

But BRC and the landlords they work with were almost too successful with Mr Rafique. Now ashamed of his past, he kept one cub, determined to make amends by treating it with kindness.

The bear that was never forgotten

Over the years, BRC’s landlord network kept visiting Sufi Muhammad Rafique, trying to convince him to give up the last bear. He eventually agreed to visit Kund Park, promising that if the conditions there were better than those he could provide, he would release the animal to WSPA’s care.

Last month, Mr Rafique and his whole family visited the sanctuary for a two-day visit, his diligence demonstrating how far his feelings about animal welfare have changed. Having seen for himself how much fuller the bear’s life could be, he finally let it go.

Now a sanctuary resident, this never forgotten bear (which was found to be in very good health) is finally able to experience a mirror of its natural, wild home, with trees, grass and pools to play in and explore.

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Read more about recent BRC/WSPA successes >>

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