ISLAMABAD: Following the Islamabad High Court’s decision on Monday, Suzie and Bubloo will finally depart for a bear sanctuary in Jordan on Wednesday after the Ministry of Climate Change permitted Four Paws to go ahead with the earlier arrangement.

Until five days ago the ministry had refused to let the bears go and had even cancelled Four Paws’ permits to take them to one of its sanctuaries in Jordan.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Amir Khalil, who is heading the Four Paws team in Islamabad, said he would start darting the bears in the afternoon to prepare them for the 11-hour journey to Jordan.”It is a great step and an example for many other nations. This step has actually inspired people,” Mr Khalil said.

Four Paws will shift the bears to its Jordanian sanctuary, ‘Al Ma’Wa for Nature and Wildlife’, which is being run together with the Princess Alia Foundation.

A senior climate change ministry official on condition of anonymity said: “First things first, sending the bears for treatment and saving them is top priority. The bears were four years old when they came to Islamabad zoo. But the pair, Suzie and Bubloo, grew up in an extremely stressed environment. It is now time that Suzie and Bubloo can be bears again, play and be well looked after. Hopefully, they can live up to 25 to 30 years like healthy bears do.”

Now, 17 years old, the bears are passed breeding stage. They have a good few years ahead of them if they are well taken care of, the senior official said, adding that “the bears are only being taken so that they can be give proper care. And if all these things happen; if they are healthy and if the sanctuary is ready in the next few months, which the government plans to build near Pir Sohawa, they might just return.”

Even though no country would ever just hand over its critically endangered species and a troublesome precedent is being set, according to a member of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, it was a nice agreement.

“The story of the two bears is very sad. Therefore, everybody came on board, including the prime minister who is an animal lover, and decided what was best for the animals. It’s a good ending. The ethical thing to do,” the member said.

Conservationists argue that while zoos advocated conservation, saved endangered species and educated public, the Islamabad zoo was never about that. Animals were often displayed in small, cramped conditions. Activists believed the cost of confining wild animals outweighed the benefits.

The female bear, Suzie, had fallen critically ill after a tumour was removed from her chest. The local vets were unable to stitch the bear up properly as a result of which she developed an infection in the seven-inch open cut right in the centre of her chest. For months she was in pain and discomfort, until Four Paws vets, who arrived in late August, operated on Suzie again and cleaned the infected wound after nearly an hour and-a-half long surgery.

Four Paws maintains that the bears sway from side to side which is a telltale sign of them being mentally ill after living for years in an unhealthy environment. The organisation also said that Islamabad zoo failed to provide an enriched environment and lacked expertise to treat the bears.

However, after the successful relocation of Kaavan the elephant from Pakistan to Cambodia two weeks ago, Four Paws is applauding the Ministry of Climate Change and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) for yet another decision in favour of animal welfare.

The relocation of the two Himalayan brown bears Suzie and Bubloo, who are kept in Marghazar Zoo, has been approved by all involved parties. A staff IWMB officer will accompany the bears to Jordan to receive training and capacity building. There, Suzie and Bubloo, will find a species-appropriate home and proper care they urgently need. Once a bear sanctuary in Pakistan is ready the bears will be returned to the country.

Four Paws appreciated the Pakistani authorities and community for their ongoing support in providing a better future for wildlife.

The Ministry of Climate Change said in its statement that in keeping with Prime Minister Imran Khan’s clean and green vision, it hoped to work with Four Paws in establishing both the bear sanctuary and the recently announced Margalla Wildlife Conservation Centre.

With the relocation of the two brown bears to Jordan, Marghazar Zoo would finally be closed in compliance with the judgement of the Islamabad High Court.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2020

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