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April 13, 2013

Bear care

The Himalayan brown bear is the largest wild animal still managing to survive here in Pakistan, although it is very much under threat of extinction as only a very limited number of breeding adults now remain. Further imperiling their existence is the fact that, as a direct result of small numbers, the females only give birth to just one, perhaps two cubs, every three years. In other countries in the northern Hemisphere where brown bears are far more numerous, the female has babies, perhaps as many as three or four, each and every single year as she has no problem in finding a ‘husband’. Still managing to hang on in remote areas of Chitral, Hunza, Swat, Gilgit, Baltistan and Azad Kashmir, the Himalayan brown bear can reach the towering height of 7ft (2.2m) for males and a lesser 6ft (1.83m) for the female of the species and they prefer to live at high altitudes between 13,000 ft (3,900m) and 17, 000 ft (5,100m) in places where humans rarely go. Male bears can, under optimum conditions, weigh as much as 200kgs and females a little less and, despite thoughts to the contrary, they are largely vegetarians, living off plants, shrubs, berries, roots, fruit and it is extremely rare for them to kill and eat meat although, in dire circumstances, they have been known to do so. The reasons for very low numbers of wild bears in Pakistan are, despite laws to the contrary, that they are hunted by unscrupulous people who sell their internal organs and some other body parts for use in ‘traditional’ and Chinese medicines, for their pelts and cubs are hunted down and captured to be sold to dealers who then raise them for use in outlawed bear baiting. Bear baiting is illegal but does still take place in some rural areas of the country: This extremely cruel blood sport involves a tied up bear, most of its teeth and its sharp claws having been removed first, being pitted against fighting dogs and during which the bear often receives terrible injuries. Spectators, there can be hundreds at such illegal events, wage money on which of the animals will win and the owners of both bears and dogs can make a lot of money from this incredibly cruel practice although, like bear baiting, gambling is un-Islamic too. The Himalayan Wildlife Project, founded in 1993 and operating mainly on the high altitude Deosai Plain in remote Baltistan, works hard to protect the 30-35 bears in the ‘Deosai National Park’ and also educates villagers about the importance of biodiversity and the role played by these fascinating animals and does its level best to prevent hunting and the stealing of bear cubs. It is hoped that their strenuous efforts to safeguard our national heritage will eventually pay off.