Asiatic black bears stray from Manas National Park | Panda Anku

On the night of December 15, 2021, Suken Gayari suffered the shock of his life. The elderly resident of Daurebari village in Assam, northeastern India, had just finished his dinner and was about to retire for the night when he heard a loud bang in the kitchen. Gayari rushed towards the sound and found the kitchen door had been forced open. Peering inside, he was horrified to see a large black bear enjoying a pot of leftover rice and curry.

“The bear also ate 18 eggs and a couple of recently hatched chicks,” says Gayari. Despite his shock, he didn’t make a sound. “I quietly went back to my room. The bear eventually fell asleep and stayed in the kitchen all night. In the morning I informed the forest officials, who arrived at 6:30 am. They calmed the bear and later released it in the forest.”

A vet carried out a medical examination of the animal. This identified him as an aging Asiatic black bear suspected of having difficulty hunting for food in the wild.

Sudden increase in bear sightings

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The bear’s visit to Gayari’s home was one of many recent incidents surrounding Manas National Park in the Himalayan foothills. Between October 2021 and February 2022, there were 18 instances where Asiatic black bears were seen outside the national park’s boundaries and had to be relocated, according to Prabhat Basumatary of Manas Tiger Reserve (of which Manas National Park is the core). and Daoharu Baro of the Wildlife Trust of India. Both are veterinary officers responsible for capturing and caring for animals leaving the national park. On two of those occasions people were attacked – although the bears were provoked first, The Third Pole was told.

In contrast, there were only eight such events between 2009 and 2016, according to officials’ records. Between 2017 and 2020, an average of about one bear was sighted outside the park each year, Basumatary says, with similar numbers in previous years. In November 2021 alone there were five incidents where bears had to be brought back into the forest, ten of them in the following month. As of March 2022, sightings have ceased.

A surge in bear attacks and sightings outside of forest reserves has also been reported just across the border in neighboring Bhutan.

Map of Manas National Park and Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan (Graphic: The Third Pole)

Daurebari, the village where Gayari lives, is one of around 50 settlements on the edge of the park, which covers an area of ​​950 square kilometers. It is home to 21 animal species listed in Schedule 1 of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 – those enjoying the strictest protection are the sun bear.

Although it’s common for bears to occasionally venture outside the park’s boundaries, the increased numbers have been a concern for villagers and forest officials. Some of the bears strayed as far as 10-12 kilometers from the forest and into human dwellings. Most of these were adult males weighing at least 80 kilograms.

Villagers have reported the loss of livestock, including goats, pigs and poultry. While human-elephant conflicts are common in this part of the country, human-bear conflicts were previously largely unknown.

“On the night of December 5th, a bear ate a small goat at my neighbor’s. It left two limbs of the goat. I had never heard of or seen such incidents before,” says Rupnal Kherkatary, who is in his 70s and lives in Rajabeel village near Daurebari.

An Asiatic black bear being chased by an elephant in Rajabeel village on December 6, 2021. The forest in the video borders Rupnal Kherkatary’s house. When the bear’s presence was discovered, the Forest Service brought in elephants to drive the bear out of the undergrowth. (Video: Rupak Das)

Manas Tiger Reserve forest veterinarian Prabhat Basumatary was involved in 13 of the 18 rescue cases.

“Since joining Manas in 2006, I have encountered a few cases of bears migrating into human habitation. These were few and far between. But it happened on an unprecedented scale last year and lasted until February,” says Basumatary.

After the bears are calmed, a vet performs a medical exam. They are weighed and their teeth checked to determine their age. Those in need of treatment are taken to a nearby rescue center and released in the forest after recovery. So far, all rescued bears have been released.

A bear caught outside the national park between November and December 2021. He was transported back to the forest and released. (Video: Rupak Das)

Why are bears on the move?

“Some say it is a sign of an impending earthquake. Forest officials say the bear numbers must have increased or the Bhutanese bears must have come down to winter,” says Mahendra Basumatary, a core member of the Manas Maozigendri Ecotourism Society, a community-based group working to revitalize and conserve manas -National Parks since 2003.

The north of Manas National Park is connected to the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. Bears are known to climb down from the mountains of Bhutan and migrate to the Indian side.

Elsewhere in India and other parts of Asia, it is common for Asiatic black bears to invade human settlements and kill livestock, according to Nishith Dharaiya, IUCN sloth bear expert and associate professor at Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University in Patan, Gujarat. But has the behavior suddenly increased in frequency over those five months?

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Dharaiya cites three possible reasons bears enter human habitats: lack of food in the forest, habitat degradation, and an increase in bear populations. Harendra Singh Bargali, the deputy director of conservation NGO The Corbett Foundation, echoes Dharaiya.

Anurag Singh, senior forest warden at Bodoland Territorial Council, the region’s senior forest official, said: “The bears generally live in the upper regions of Bhutan. During the lean season, at the beginning of winter, the availability of food and water can sometimes become an issue. Then the bears come down in search of food. These could be some of the reasons for the unusual number of bears that go astray, but we cannot confirm this unless we conduct a proper study. That doesn’t happen every year.”

He added that the Bodoland Forest Department is in contact with the Bhutanese government. “We communicate with the local forest authority and try to understand the problem. A core group was formed in Manas to investigate the situation and report back to the government. But Bhutan is now closed due to the pandemic, and we can’t really come to a conclusion without examining their habitat. In addition, we also need to obtain permits and comply with regulatory procedures in order to conduct a joint study.”

lack of data and research

Of concern, Bargali says, there is limited data on bear populations or the state of their habitats in India. It is therefore not possible to say whether the bear population has suddenly increased.

“No animal wants to come into conflict with humans. But all bear species in India are in conflict with humans. We should examine the status and distribution of bears in India and why these conflicts are taking place. Although bears are a Schedule 1 animal under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, they are neglected in India because other animals such as tigers, rhinos, lions and elephants take precedence. Most of the funding goes to research on these animals,” he adds.

Bears are neglected in India because other animals such as tigers, rhinos, lions and elephants take precedence. Most of the funds go to research on these animals.

Harendra Singh Bargali, Associate Director of the Corbett Foundation

Without proper research, says Bibhuti Lahkar, the department head at Guwahati-based NGO Aaranyak, it’s impossible to suggest what to do. “We need to conduct studies to understand this behavior and to prevent human-bear conflict and any undesirable occurrences in the future.”

Without policies guided by proper research, fear can spread quickly, with adverse consequences for people and wildlife. In January, villagers in Koimari killed a bear cub and buried it by the river. When the news of the boy’s death spread, the forest authority was informed and proceedings were initiated against those responsible.

To prevent such incidents, Dharaiya says, researchers need to observe how local residents perceive bear visits while studying the animal’s movement and food availability at different times of the year. Depending on the findings, a nutritional calendar for different seasons could be created to allow specific trees and shrubs to be grown in the forest. This could prevent the bears from roaming around in search of food.

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