Bear Baiting: An Ancient Blood Sport Still Practiced in Pakistan

Bear Baiting is an extremely cruel, banned, and ancient blood sport still practiced in parts of Pakistan.

Illustration of Bear Baiting
Painting Of Bear Baiting By Dogs From The 16th Century By Abraham Hondius (1631–1691). Public Domain

Bear baiting is a blood sport held in some rural regions in parts of Pakistan between dogs and a bear. And though it the sport is illegal there for over a century now, the sporting events still happen to date.

Landowners and local gangs (considered very powerful and dangerous in rural Pakistan) stage the event with thousands turning up to view the spectacle.

Bear Baiting: Extremely Cruel Entertainment

In a pit there’s a ring, with a post erected and a bear is tied by the neck or legs with a string up to 5 meters long. After some time, a bunch of bulldogs, well trained, are let loose into the ring to attack and maim the bear.

Since the bear is restrained, it would fight for a some minutes before it gives up. Rolling on the ground is a sign of submission.

The mental and physical torture these animals face means their lives change entirely.

Bears are often captured illegally from the wild by hunters or poachers. The Brown bears and the Asiatic black bears (or moon bears) are the main victims of this poaching.

Bear baiting used to be practiced in other parts of the world way back. For instance, in traditional England, the bears were also tethered to a pole in a pit to prevent them from escaping. Spectators had their seats raised to get a clear view of the sport. To add some thrill, the bear would be let loose at some stage to chase the dogs or even people in the crowd.

However, the fight is not an easy one as dogs and bears alike get bruised and at times die. When a dog dies, another is brought into the ring until the bear surrenders or all the dog die.

The death of a bear means the start of another cycle as another young and wild bear will be brought in to cover up for its dead counterpart.

Preparing The Bears For The Ring

The handlers will painfully pierce the bears’ muzzles with nose rings and also file their claws down. They also remove the bear’s canines. All this is done so they have little to no way to fight for their lives against the ravaging dogs.

Other than their physical strength they have no defense. Sadly, their strength is already low because of the very poor diet they live on.

Bears get to fight the dogs for some minutes and if the bear survives, the fight can be  repeated up to 10 times a day. This continues till the bear dies.

How Bear Baiting Started In Pakistan

As mentioned earlier, bear baiting is not indigenous to Pakistan. The sport came there through the British colonizers during the mid-nineteenth century.

Queen Elizabeth I was particularly fond of bear baiting. So much that a bear sport had to be staged everywhere she visited. Attempts by the parliament to ban the sporting event which held back then every Sunday bore no fruits as she always overruled the decision of parliament.

When the British colonial rule ventured into the Asian continent, they introduced the sport to several regions. However, Pakistani warlords in particular swiftly picked up the idea of the sport and so it survives to date.

 The blood game was banned over a century ago. However, the provinces of Punjab and Sindh have held on to it since 2004.

Efforts To Curb Bear Baiting

Though officially banned, this blood sport still thrives due to a network of wildlife dealers, hunters, landowners, and gypsy bear owners.

Efforts to curb these event have been extremely challenging. For example, many of the bear owners/poachers are not even resident in one location, so tracking them to educate them is a major issue.

Despite the challenges, the World Society for the Protection of Animals in association with the local authorities, have put in place efforts to curb the sport to a minimum through;

  • Sharing of information with the local authorities concerning hotspots of bear sporting events.
  • What drives the event is mainly economic thus providing an alternative source of living for the landowners.
  • Strengthening existing laws and ensuring enforcement of penalties. Presently, bear baiting is banned under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
  • Working with the local community to promote animal protection and create awareness by exposing animal cruelty and torture and providing alternative methods to find entertainment.
  • Establishing special sanctuaries for bears rescued or surrendered. The torture they face hinders them from reasserting themselves in the wild. The Kund park opened in 2000 by World Animal Protection houses such bears with special needs.

Regarding sanctuaries, the Kund Park sanctuary was built to offer retirement to rescued bears. However, it was destroyed in the 2010 floods killing all bears but three. A new sanctuary was then built to house the surviving three, the Balkasar Bear sanctuary where they enjoy their retirement with other rescued bears.

In their natural wild, bears can live up to 20 years or more when undisturbed. However, bears kept in captivity and used for entertainment live up to 8 years at most.

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