Bears: South Asia
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
2017-18: restoration of "dancing" sloth bear
Centre backs move to bring back animal smuggled across the border in 2017
Nineteen-year-old Rangila doesn’t need to dance anymore. The sloth bear, which was smuggled into Nepal in December 2017 for use as a ‘dancing bear’, is being sent back to India.
The Indian and Nepalese governments, Nepal’s Jane Goodall Institute, and the Indian non-profit, Wildlife SOS, facilitated the repatriation. The seven-month-long process involved obtaining several approvals and documents from both countries (including import permits), the organisations said.
Wildlife SOS also launched a campaign requesting Nepalese authorities to help the bear. Eventually, a Cabinet decision by the government of Nepal approved the bear’s repatriation to India. It has, however, been an arduous journey for Rangila.
It was in December 2017 that Wildlife SOS received information about two dancing bears on the Indo-Nepal border. But the traffickers swiftly moved them into Nepal, where Indian authorities do not have jurisdiction.
Nepal’s enforcement officials detained two people, and the two bears, Rangila and 17-year old Sridevi, were temporarily shifted to the Kathmandu Zoo. Sridevi, unfortunately, did not survive.
A 1,000-km journey
At present, two Wildlife SOS teams are engaged in escorting Rangila in an animal ambulance on its 1,000-km journey from Kathmandu Zoo to the Agra Bear Rescue Centre in Uttar Pradesh, where he will join nearly 200 rescued sloth bears.
This is a unique effort to bring back a wild citizen home, said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS. Once Rangila reaches the Wildlife SOS Bear Rescue Centre, he will receive specialised veterinary care, said co-founder Geeta Seshamani.
“He will have a large forested enclosure with a pool, lots of trees to climb, and other bears to play with,” she added.
“We are happy to help in this repatriation mission,” said Chiranjibi Prasad Pokheral, project manager at Kathmandu Zoo, where both Rangila and Sridevi were housed. Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), found only in the Indian subcontinent, were exploited as ‘dancing bears’ in India until the practice was banned in 1972. But it is not illegal in Nepal.
2020: Impact of climate change
Scanty snowfall and lack of food availability due to climate change has cut short the hibernation period of bears drastically — from an average four to five months to barely two now, experts have found.
They also warned that changes in hibernation patterns have had repercussions on the animal’s behaviour, turning it more aggressive and leading to increased bear attacks. “We are now recording bear attacks even in December and January when the animals are known to hibernate,” said J S Suhag, chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand forest department.
This year, four people were killed in 64 incidents of man-bear conflict in the state. In 2019, four people died in 76 bear attacks while two were killed in 54 incidents in 2018. S Sathyakumar, senior scientist at Wildlife Institute of India who has been studying man-animal conflict in Uttarakhand’s high altitudes under a UNDP project, said climate change has affected hibernation of the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus).
“They are now hibernating for shorter durations due to scanty snowfall. Earlier, they would hardly be seen from mid-December to mid-March. But this year, we spotted a bear with its cub wandering around in Darma Valley of Pithoragarh in January. This is very unusual,” he said.
‘Reproductive cycle may be hit by short hibernation’
Lalit Kumar Sharma, head of department, wildlife and Geographic Information System division, at the headquarters of Zoological Survey of India in Kolkata, who was part of a five-year study (2008-2012) on bears in Jammu & Kashmir, told TOI that the average hibernation period of Asiatic black bears was now down to 54 days instead of three to five winter months. “We found that one radio-collared bear hibernated for just 32 days,” he said.
Shorter hibernation has also been observed among Himalayan brown bears (Ursus arctos), said Sharma, whose team recorded sightings of the animal in January in Himachal Pradesh.
Experts said the bears were hibernating for short periods due to less snowfall. “Snowfall in the Himalayas is now spread out over more months, but it is scanty. At the same time, climate change has affected food availability. For instance, berries that flowered in May are flowering early, leaving bears with less food sources towards the winter which is why they are venturing near human habitats, searching for food,” Sathyakumar said.
The changes in hibernation patterns and lack of food resources are also turning bears aggressive, said Sathyakumar. “It is also likely to affect their offspring if the mother bear does not have adequate fat stores in the body,” he said.
Sharma also agreed that the reproductive cycle of the species may be affected. “Bears mate during spring and give birth to offspring during hibernation. Short hibernation periods could impact this cycle.” Bears are among several species that have been affected as Himalayan biodiversity changes due to climate change, said Subrat Sharma, head of GB Pant National institute of Himalayan Environment, Ladakh. He said snowfall across the Himalayan region has reduced over the past few years and warmer and dry winters have disrupted hibernation patterns of animals, including bears.