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)
Short Url
  • 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. 


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.”


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.”