Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty

A pair of black bear photographed inside the bear rescue enclosure at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on April 5, 2024. (AN Photo)
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Updated 14 April 2024
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Islamabad center rehabilitates hundreds of animals, including dancing bears saved from cruelty

  • Since its inception in Aug. 2021, center has rescued over 380 animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles
  • Management plans to expand the facility and turn it into a permanent sanctuary for rescued animals and birds

ISLAMABAD: Aneela, a five-year-old female black bear, growled inside a squeeze cage at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center where attendants have been struggling for the last several days to alleviate her pain through medication, love and care.

Aneela is at the rehab center after being saved from a life of cruelty as a dancing bear in the Pakistani city of Gujranwala where wildlife officials carried out a raid last month. Aneela’s teeth and nails had been removed by poachers during captivity and a nose ring they had put on her continued to cause pain, with visible signs of distress and swelling all over her face when an Arab News team visited the site earlier this month.

Animal-keepers and vets at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center have been treating Aneela for a week now and plan to remove her nose ring before moving her to a bigger cage.

The Islamabad Zoo, located in the foothills of the lush green Margalla Hills, was shut down in 2020 through a court order after an animal cruelty case. It has now been transformed into a facility where hundreds of rescued animals and birds are brought for rehabilitation.




A leopard cub photographed at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on April 5, 2024. (AN Photo)

Since its inception in August 2021, the center has rescued over 380 animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles. The facility is spread over eleven hectares of land where overgrown foliage and old trees give the animals a sense of being in a jungle, their natural habitat.

The center currently hosts black bears, two leopard cubs called Sultan and Neelu, monkeys, eagles and kites. The management has set up special shelters with a playing area for all animals and is building a special cage for Aneela’s rehabilitation.

“Basically, this is a female black bear that was rescued from Gujranwala on March 26, and then our staff shifted her here to the Rescue Center,” Sakhawat Ali, the deputy director of research and planning at the center, told Arab News earlier this month.

“Currently, she is under the treatment process. She is being administered antibiotics and now her nose ring will be removed. She is in a squeeze trap now, so that the animal does not need to be sedated repeatedly [during treatment].”

Ali said the center’s main aim at the moment was to alleviate Aneela’s pain, since she was now unable to be released into the wild to hunt and survive as poachers had removed her teeth. 

“Since they cannot go into the wild now, we are trying to set up a sanctuary for these bears, we have a proposal for it, to release them there,” Ali added. 

“STOLEN FROM MOTHERS”

Dancing bears are captive or bred bears forced to perform tricks for entertainment. Their training methods include painful measures like hot metal plates and metal rings through sensitive noses and jaws, allowing owners to exert control over the bears.




A pair of black bear photographed inside the bear rescue enclosure at the Islamabad Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on April 5, 2024. (AN Photo)

Another cruel and illegal practice is bear baiting in which animals are subjected to fights against trained dogs for entertainment. The fights inflict severe physical and psychological trauma on bears, often resulting in broken teeth, pierced snouts and the removal of claws.

Bear dancing and bear baiting are age-old traditions in the region, introduced as a sport by the British during their colonial rule. 

Rina Saeed Khan, the chairperson of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, told Arab News poachers stole cubs and infants from their mothers in the wild and then trained them to dance and perform tricks to please audiences and earn money for the owners.

“They pull out their nails, they pull out their teeth, they make them dance on hot stoves to teach them how to dance, so a lot of cruelty happens and then you see the dancing bears in the streets of Punjab and the gypsies earn money through that,” Khan said. 

The rehab center’s management was striving to develop more space to accommodate the increasing number of animals rescued from different parts of the country, Khan added. A sightseeing platform for visitors would also be set up inside the center in the future.

“We are trying to expand our space and we are now trying to go from a rescue center to a permanent sanctuary for the bears because international experts tell us that this is the ideal space right next to the Margalla Hills,” Khan said.

“The temperature is much cooler over here and we do already have about eight bears, so we want to build our capacity to take in more and that would be open to the public.” 

Earlier this month, a team of wildlife experts from the Four Paws charity arrived in Islamabad to help eight dancing and baiting bears rescued by local authorities and discuss the possibility of saving and relocating more such animals.

The team came in response to an urgent request by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to support local authorities with the veterinary treatment and neutering of the eight bears.

“It is crucial to assess the health of all bears and our priority to neuter them to prevent unwanted breeding,” Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil, who is leading the action in the country, said in a statement. “That way we can ensure ethical wildlife management going forward.”

“We are grateful for the trust of the Pakistani authorities in our expertise and committed to improve the lives of as many bears as possible,” he added. “We will also support the preparation of enclosures for the new arrivals at the rescue center and ensure proper care for all animals going forward.”

The organization’s president and CEO, Josef Pfabigan, welcomed the action by Pakistani government against cruel practices.

“We are happy to work together on this important cause,” he said. “With our successful collaboration, Four Paws aims to find sustainable long-term solutions for the animals and help law enforcement to effectively put an end to the illegal practices of dancing bears and bear baiting in Pakistan.”

“WHITE-BOOTED EAGLE”

The center has also set up a dedicated helpline where volunteers can alert the wildlife department about incidents of animal cruelty to help authorities launch swift rescue operations. 

The helpline is already helping, as one white-booted eagle was recently rescued from Rawal Lake because of a tip-off.

“Its owner had put a rope on its foot, and he would make it sit on the forearm and pose for photos [for paying clients],” Ali said. 

“Somebody complained to us that the eagle is being tortured like this, [with owners] taking its picture after making it sit on the arm and earning money by doing that.”

The rehab center’s team reached the area and rescued the bird, which was badly injured. 

“When we brought it here, its leg was hanging because [the owner] had wrapped the rope tightly on its claw for a long time, so the blood flow had stopped,” Ali added. 

“Now it has recovered quite a bit. It has slowly started putting its talon on the ground.”


Pakistan to pay $2.5 million to families of Chinese nationals killed in March suicide bombing

Updated 7 sec ago
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Pakistan to pay $2.5 million to families of Chinese nationals killed in March suicide bombing

  • Five Chinese workers, Pakistani driver were killed in suicide bomb attack in northwestern Pakistan on Mar. 26
  • Chinese interests have increasingly come under attack in Pakistan where Beijing has pledged $65 billion investment

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s top economic body on Thursday approved $2.5 million in compensation for families of Chinese workers who were killed in March when a suicide bomber targeted their vehicle in northwestern Pakistan. 

Five Chinese workers and their Pakistani driver were killed on Mar. 26 while they were on their way to the Dasu hydropower project in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

Pakistan has vowed to trace the masterminds of the suicide attack and increase security of Chinese personnel, projects and institutions in the South Asian country. The Pakistan army said earlier this month the suicide bomber was an Afghan national, and the attack was planned in Afghanistan. The Taliban rulers in Kabul deny the accusations. 

“The ECC considered and approved proposals for Technical Supplementary Grants, including: $2.58 million and Rs. 2.5 million to the Ministry of Water Resources as compensation packages for Chinese and local casualties at Dasu Hydropower Project,” the Finance Division said, referring to the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC).

The package was approved by Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb who chaired the meeting of the ECC.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi said earlier this month the South Asian country would introduce new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the security of Chinese nationals in Pakistan. 

The Dasu attack was the third major one in a little over a week on China’s interests in the South Asian nation, where Beijing has pledged over $65 billion in energy, infrastructure and other projects as part of its wider Belt and Road initiative. 

The Mar. 26 bombing followed a Mar. 20 attack on a strategic port used by China in the southwestern province of Balochistan, where Beijing has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, and a Mar. 25 assault on a naval air base, also in the southwest. Both attacks were claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the most prominent of several separatist groups in Balochistan.

Dasu, the site of a major dam, has been attacked in the past, with a bus blast in 2021 killing 13 people, nine Chinese among them, although no group claimed responsibility, like the Mar. 26 bombing.
 
Pakistan is home to twin insurgencies, one mounted by religiously-motivated militants and the other by ethnic separatists who seek secession, blaming the government’s inequitable division of natural resources in southwestern Balochistan province.

Chinese interests are mostly under attack primarily by ethnic militants seeking to push Beijing out of mineral-rich Balochistan, but that area is far from the site of the Mar. 26 bombing. 


IMF demands Pakistan secure parliamentary approval on reforms for loan agreement— official

Updated 23 May 2024
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IMF demands Pakistan secure parliamentary approval on reforms for loan agreement— official

  • Government will present “prior actions” needed to secure IMF loan in federal budget next month, says finance ministry official 
  • Leading economist says Pakistan left with no option but to secure IMF bailout to meet external financing needs of $80 billion 

ISLAMABAD: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has asked Pakistan to seek parliamentary approval on major economic reforms related to the energy, power, tax sectors and on the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) before starting formal talks for another loan program, a finance ministry official said on Thursday. 

Facing low foreign exchange reserves, currency devaluation and high inflation, Pakistan last month completed a short-term $3 billion IMF program that helped stave off a sovereign default. However, the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has stressed the need for a fresh, longer-term program with the global lender. 

An IMF mission reached Islamabad last week to negotiate with Pakistani authorities for a fresh bailout program, holding talks with officials on reforms in key economic sectors. The mission is wrapping up its visit today, Thursday, without reaching any staff-level agreement with Islamabad. 

The government would present the economic reforms demanded by IMF or “prior actions” in parliament in the Finance Bill 2024-25 likely to be presented on June 7, the finance ministry official with knowledge of the negotiations, said on condition of anonymity. 

“The IMF has suggested authorities to get parliamentary approval for the new loan program’s targets and conditions before initiation of the formal talks,” the official told Arab News. 

“In fact, these are the prior actions that Pakistan is required to take care of before reaching a staff-level agreement with the Fund for the new bailout package.”

The international lender has urged Islamabad to overhaul its SOEs and introduce tax, energy and power reforms. Pakistan has had to take painful measures in line with the IMF’s demands since 2022, which included hiking fuel and food prices. 

The finance ministry official said the government intends to introduce key reforms in the energy and power sectors in line with the IMF’s demands, besides broadening the tax base through progressive initiatives. 

“The government will take all parliamentary parties into confidence over the digitalization of the Federal Board of Revenue and the privatization of the SOEs,” he added. 

Sajid Amin, a senior economist and deputy executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), said the government had “no option but to secure the IMF loan program.” He said the IMF’s program was critical in helping Pakistan meet its external financing needs of around $80 billion in the next three years. 

“The IMF wants political ownership of the loan program and that’s why it is pushing the government to get all the targets and conditions approved by the parliament,” Amin told Arab News.

“The biggest challenge for the government is to convince the coalition partners and opposition over its reforms agenda to secure the IMF loan,” he said. 

Amin warned the upcoming IMF program would be the “toughest” one for the government as it would not be easy for it to complete it. 
 


Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

Updated 23 May 2024
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Tickets for Pakistan-Saudi Arabia football World Cup qualifier go up for sale

  • Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will play against each other in Islamabad on June 6 for round two of World Cup qualifier
  • Saudi Arabia beat Pakistan 4-0 in November 2023 when the two sides met each other for first round of qualifiers

ISLAMABAD: Tickets for Pakistan’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifier Round 2 home-leg match against Saudi Arabia are officially on sale, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) announced on Thursday. 

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will lock horns at the Jinnah Football Stadium in Islamabad on June 6, with the match scheduled to kick off at 8:30 p.m. Pakistan Standard Time. 

Pakistan is in Group G of the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Tajikistan. The South Asian country will face Tajikistan on June 11 in an away fixture. 

A total of 36 football squads have been split into nine groups with four teams each in the second round of qualifiers. The winners and runners-up from each group would progress through to the third round.

“In a bid to make the event accessible to all football enthusiasts, ticket prices have been thoughtfully set at budget-friendly rates,” the PFF said in a media release, adding that tickets were available at Bookme.pk website. 

It said tickets for the Premium Plus enclosures were set at Rs4,000 [$14.37] while the Premium enclosure tickets were priced at Rs1,500 [$5.39]. The General enclosure tickets are being sold for Rs750 [$2.69]. 

Saudi Arabia thrashed Pakistan 4-0 when the two sides met in November 2023 for their first clash of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Al Ahsa. 

Preliminary Pakistan squad

Goalkeepers: Hassan Ali and Tanveer

Defenders: Haseeb Khan, Mamoon Moosa Khan, Huzaifa, Waqar Ihtisham, Abdul Rehman, Umar Hayat, Muhammad Adeel, Muhammad Saddam and Zain ul Abideen

Midfielders: Yasir Arafat, Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Moin Ali, Junaid Ahmed and Fahim

Forwards: Adeel Younas, Shayak Dost, Ali Zafar and Fareedullah

The PFF said the names of diaspora players joining the national training camp later would be included in the final squad.


Heat wave cancels lessons for half of Pakistan’s schoolchildren

Updated 33 min 28 sec ago
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Heat wave cancels lessons for half of Pakistan’s schoolchildren

  • Some 26 million students will be out of lessons from Saturday in Punjab as temperature soars
  • Met Office has forecast three heatwaves, one underway and two set to hit in early and late June

LAHORE, Pakistan: Half of Pakistan’s pupils will be shut out of schools for a week as the nation takes crisis measures to lessen the effect of a series of heat waves, officials said Thursday.

Some 26 million students will be out of lessons from Saturday in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, which has ordered schools to close for the summer break one week early because of the soaring temperatures.

The early closure was confirmed by a spokesperson for Punjab’s Education Department.
Pakistan’s meteorological office has forecast three heat waves — one already underway and two more set to hit in early and late June.

Temperatures in Punjab are currently six to eight degrees Celsius above normal, the disaster management agency said, with the provincial capital Lahore due for 46 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) at the weekend.

The government’s Coordinator on Climate Change and Environment told journalists in Islamabad on Thursday that “global warming is causing a sudden change in weather patterns.”

Parts of Pakistan are facing power cuts of up to 15 hours as demand for fans and air conditioning surges, leaving students sweltering at their desks.

The Save the Children NGO said the 26 million Punjabi schoolchildren with lessons canceled account for 52 percent of pre-primary, primary and secondary students in Pakistan.

“Prolonged exposure to intense heat impacts children’s ability to learn and to concentrate and this puts their education at risk,” country director Muhammad Khuram Gondal said.

“Excess heat is also potentially lethal to children.”

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than three-quarters of children in South Asia — or 460 million — are exposed to temperatures above 35C (95F) for at least 83 days per year.

It warned that children are at risk of “dehydration, higher body temperature, rapid heartbeat, cramps... and coma.”

Pakistan is responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the nation of 240 million ranks high among countries vulnerable to extreme weather events, which scientists have linked to climate change.

A third of Pakistan was submerged by unprecedented monsoon rains in 2022 that displaced millions of people.

It was also battered by above-normal rainfall last month that killed at least 144 people in the wettest April recorded since 1961, with more deluges forecast this summer.

Lahore’s students also saw lessons cut this winter when schools were shut as the megacity was enveloped by choking smog.


Pakistani exporters confident of increasing sales in Kingdom after encouraging response at ‘Saudi Food Show’

Updated 23 May 2024
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Pakistani exporters confident of increasing sales in Kingdom after encouraging response at ‘Saudi Food Show’

  • Saudi Food Show, Kingdom’s largest food and beverages sourcing event, is being held in Riyadh from May 21-23
  • Thirty Pakistani companies are among 1,000 exhibitors from over 97 countries taking part in the exhibition

KARACHI: Buoyed by an overwhelming response at the “Saudi Food Show 2024” being held in Riyadh, Pakistani food exporters on Thursday said they were confident of increasing their market share in the Kingdom. 

The Saudi Food Show is the Kingdom’s largest annual event for food and beverage sourcing. The event is being held in Riyadh from May 21-23 where over 1,000 exhibitors from 97 countries are taking part in the exhibition. Among the exhibitors are also thirty Pakistani companies that are taking part in the event, the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) said. 

“The annual demand for rice in Saudi Arabia is 1.2 million tons and Pakistan’s share is only 7 percent at present,” Chela Ram Kewlani, chairman of the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), told Arab News.

“We are expecting to increase our share after this exhibition.”

The Saudi groundbreaking platform convenes a distinguished global contingent of exhibitors, thought leaders, industry communities, strategic partners, innovative brands, and acclaimed chefs.

The Pakistan Pavilion at the event featured 30 companies comprising 15 from the rice sector, 12 from the processed food sector, two from the meat sector, and two from the dairy sector, the TDAP said.

Pakistani rice exporters hope to achieve a new milestone in exporting the product after India decided last year to ban rice exports. 

India, the world’s top rice exporter, banned the export of non-basmati white rice last year to control its rising domestic food costs and maintain domestic supplies.

The move prompted Pakistan’s rice exports to increase by more than 80 percent this fiscal year to $3.28 billion. REAP officials hope rice exports will cross $3.5 billion mark by the end of the current financial year.

Praising the response received at the Saudi Food Show, Khalid Ghori, a representative of the leading Pakistani agribusiness Matco Foods Limited, hoped “the market will be fruitful for Pakistan in the coming days.”

“Large number of people including importers and exporters visited our stalls and we hope that the market will be very fruitful for Pakistani products,” Ghori told Arab News. 

Pakistani food exporters also participated in a three-day major food and beverage trade show held last week in Canada’s Montreal. 

SIAL Canada featured about 10 Pakistani companies that displayed various products including beverages, dairy products, rice, pink salt, sweet snacks, seafood products, fresh fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, frozen and ready-made products.