In recent years, western Nepal has faced an increasing excessive human-wildlife conflict which resulted into retaliatory killing of bears. Baseline information of conflict, status and distribution of bears in general is lacking, for designing bear conservation and conflict mitigation measures.
This study, supported by Bears in Mind since 2023, will assess the extent and magnitude of Himalayan black bear (Ursus thibetanus laniger) – Human Conflict and importantly Habitat Occupancy in Rara National Park, Nepal. The study will be conducted following an Occupancy Survey and Questionnaire Survey to assess the occupancy and habitat influencing variables as well as people’s perception and conflict zone.
The study will equally emphasize the conservation outreach program in coordination with local communities and schools, situated in close proximity to bear habitat, with the aim of reducing Human – Bear Conflict, raising community awareness regarding the importance of bear safety measures, and awareness of the legal status regarding poaching and hunting of bears.
Bears are sought after for use in traditional medicines, for consumption and live as pets. Indonesia, a well-known hub of illegal wildlife trade (IWT), has a thriving trade in bears yet very little is known of the current status of this trade. This lack of information is an obstacle to conservation actions and hinders efforts to end this illegal trade and ultimately protect bears in the wild.
Understanding the drivers behind the trade, the sources of the bears and other relevant dynamics is key to developing a strategy to counter this crime. Investigating legal deterrents, such as seizures and penalties is also essential in order to better support enforcement efforts and to inform policy decisions. While some work has been done to collect and compile this information, major components of data are missing or outdated, hampering conservation efforts.
With financial support from Bears in Mind, the team from Monitor Conservation Research Society (Monitor) intends to fill these knowledge gaps and use the resulting information to support effective enforcement efforts, strengthen national policies and to catalyse conservation efforts in Indonesia to better protect bears from the illegal wildlife trade.
Illegal wildlife trade is an emerging conservation threat to biodiversity. It is most prominent in developing countries with limited capacity to address illegal trade and regulate legal sustainable trade regulation. Bears are mainly traded for their gall bladder, which is used to treat different medical ailments linked to medicinal traditions. For example, to treat several diseases by the Shoka tribe in India. Or in Traditional Chinese Medicines where an extensive illegal trade into China fuels the use to treat gallstones, liver problems, fever, heart diseases, and eye irritation. But also in traditional Ayurveda and Tibetan medicinal traditions for instance. Following the rampant use of bear bile, and its clinically proven treatment of liver diseases due to the presence of ursodeoxycholic acid (ursodiol), commercial bear bile farming started in the 1980s. The vulnerable Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), known as Moon bears, Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus), and Brown bears are preferably farmed for bile. This is more prevalent in China where the use of bear bile from captive bears is legal (although, illegal to extract bear bile from wild bears).
Nepal falls between India and China, the two big consumers of traditional medicinals (e.g., Traditional Chinese Medicines in China; Ayurveda in India). Nepal also has consumers of traditional medicines including Amchi also called Tibetan medicinal practitioners, Nepali folk medicines, and Ayurveda; and have documented the historical use of bear parts as a cure for different ailments. There are reports that Nepal acts as a transit, sometimes a source, for bear trade. A recent study indicated Nepal as a transit for bear bile trade from India to China, while there is evidence of Nepal being both a transit and source country.
In this light, Bears in Mind supports this project bij Greenhood Nepal since 2023 to investigate the extent of the trade in Nepal and what measures need to be in place to ensure conservation of bears, as well as expose potential gaps.
Sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) and Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are not only threatened by habitat loss and illegal hunting for body parts, but also captured to supply bear bile extraction facilities. The efforts by Bears in Mind partner Free the Bears (FTB) in Southeast Asia allowed the rescue of almost 400 bears, although options for rescued bears remain mostly limited to lifelong care in sanctuaries. Most rescued bears arriving in FTB’s sanctuaries in the region are under 3 years of age, and as such the ongoing costs of caring for rescued bears throughout their lifespan (often 30+ years) are significant. Although the establishment of a programme for rehabilitation and release may require a substantial initial investment, the outcomes of a successful programme (in addition to potential welfare and conservation benefits of developing successful protocols for the release of Asian bear species) are necessary steps towards bear conservation and can contribute to our understanding of key ecological factors of these species.
Within this project, the development of a bear release programme in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam, starts with the construction of isolation and rewilding facilities and the development of essential activities to ensure a successful implementation. To date, very few releases of rescued bears have been attempted in the SE Asian region, and those that have taken place previously have had limited results due to restrictions in terms of numbers of individuals, site location and methodology applied. Significantly, this project is part of a regional effort with activities occurring concurrently in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Low public awareness of the Asiatic black bear (ABB) in Russia leads to ignorance of this species and threats to its population from government agencies, the media, as well as a negative attitude towards bears from the local residents, which perceives them (along with other large carnivores) as a problem and threat.
This project supported by Bears in Mind since 2021, aims to raise the level of awareness of the public, local residents, authorities and journalists about the the ABB and the current population status; to debunk the negative image about these animals; to form an information agenda aimed at protecting this species and its habitat in Russia, promoting coexistence of bears and people.
The main aim of the project that Bears in Mind is supporting since 2020, is to assess the population dynamics, developed management plan and implementation for the conservation of Asiatic Black Bear (ABB) and its habitat in district of Chitral, Northern Pakistan. Under the project “Population estimation and conservation of Asiatic Black Bear in potential in Hindukush Region Chitral Pakistan” the population field survey was conducted and based on the survey population distribution map for Chitral was developed and shared with other stakeholders. The market was assessed for the first time to get an overview on bear parts trade in the region. Stakeholders were consulted for ABB conservation. Human Bear Conflicts were assessed and the possible mitigation measures were also documented. For effective conservation of the ABB and its habitat, a management plan was jointly developed with the help of the local communities and other stakeholders. Activities were designed to reduce Human Bear Conflicts.
In Chitral district, the ABB remains the least studied and researched species, especially in the past three decades. Due to its unique geo-climatic conditions and ecology, Chitral district – more particularly the southern Chitral – provides ideal habitat for ABB to live in. However, due to lack of proper research, the potential of the region in terms of ABB, is unexplored.
Over the past two years, the Mountain Society for Research & Development Chitral has been implementing the project activities. The focus has been on:
Improved management of ABB habitat which integrates sustainable forest & land management and compatible conservation practice.
Participatory conservation to reduce Human Bear Conflicts and improve livelihoods of local communities.
Promote awareness and sensitization among the local communities and other stakeholders for the conservation of ABB (and associated biodiversity conservation).
Bears in Mind will continue the financial support in 2023 with the emphasis on empowering Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) as tools for ABB conservation in Chitral, Pakistan.
Bear bile has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, with the market in China predominantly involving bile from Asiatic black bears. Despite the introduction of bear farming across Asia in the 1970s to supply the trade in bile, little is known about the effects of farming on demand for wild bile, or the current impact that the trade in bear bile has on wild bears. At the 2012 IUCN World Conservation Congress in S.Korea, concern about bear farming led to the adoption of Recommendation 139, which called for a “scientifically independent, peer-reviewed situation analysis” to evaluate the contribution of bear farming to the status of wild bear populations.
This project will directly address this Recommendation, taking a consumer and market-based approached using methods designed to understand how the market for farmed bear bile has affected the market for wild bear bile by investigating the complex interactions of these two markets (both in terms of demand and product availability). After the initial funding of meetings between experts from various IUCN Spcialist Groups and the Chinese Government in 2013-2014, Bears in Mind funded a Key Informant Survey conducted in December 2015, which was most helpful in designing the follow-up in-depth investigation. In 2015 interviews were conducted by a China-IUCN team to collect important information about the trade and management of Asiatic black bears in China. Trade in this sense, included the legal and illegal trade. It also included trade in live animals as well as their parts (bear-bile and bear paws). Interviews were conducted in a qualitative format, intended to guide further research and analysis.
2017 – 2019 This follow-up began end of 2017, when Bears in Mind funded a continuation of the large-scale study led by the University of Oxford in the UK in close cooperation with the Sun Yat Sen University in China, the SFA and the IUCN SSC Bear Specialist Group. The focus was on the consumption, prescription and sale of bear bile, which resulted in some of the first datasets on the prevalence and motivations for bear bile consumption across four provinces in China.
Online consumer survey The team had a final sample of 1,845 respondents. Most (88%, n = 1621) had used some form of bear bile in their lifetime, with more than 2/3 of these consumers (70.1%, n = 1145) buying bile within the last year. Most people (79.3%, n = 1462) knew at least one bile-user, with parents and grandparents being the most frequently reported users. Most consumers (85.6% (n = 1388) stated that they had used bile for medicinal purposes, with 64.1% (n = 1036) reporting that they had used it as a health tonic, and 19% (n = 308) as a gift. The most common place people reported buying bile was at the pharmacy (n = 1142) followed by a hospital (n = 1045), with the least common being from a personal contact (n = 140). The most frequently reported form of bile used was eyedrops (n = 749), with tea the least reported (n = 42). Although 390 people reported using a bear gallbladder, mismatches between reported source and form suggest many do not know the source of bile they use.
Online trade Data collection on online sales for bear bile products on the domestic markets. Information was mostly obtained from e-commerce platforms like Baidu and Bing.cn, as well as select discussion forums like WeChat and social mediaplatforms, to provide insights in the online trading environment from both formal and informal interactions, and consumer interest for specific bear bile product types, particularly of farmed and synthetic origin.
2021 – present In January-April 2021 Sun Yat-sen University (China) and the University of Oxford (UK) worked with multi-stakeholders of bear bile consumption, including consumers, pharmacy workers and TCM doctors to co-design post-COVID19 strategies for reducing illegal bear bile consumption. Specifically, the organized workshops highlighted that consumers and/or potential consumers would respond best to health-related and legality-focussed messaging, whereas the general public should respond best to legality-focussed messaging and incentives to report illegal consumption when they saw it. In this project, the team will test interventions designed in these workshops with key target groups, to evaluate their effectiveness for reducing illegal bear bile use and sale, and make recommendations for future larger-scale interventions. In addition to testing the interventions, the team will also use their findings for larger public outreach, by holding a ‘bear event day’ in the popular Guangzhou Zoo, as there will be a series of events or activities about biodiversity conservation. After the events, the team will also provide the education centre of the zoo with some educational materials from our project.
More information soon…
The situation regarding captive bears in the Ukraine is dire. As many as 400 bears may be held under poor conditions throughout the country, in private ownership or small zoos. Unregulated and illegal breeding of bears is a major problem. Our partner Eco-Halych is gathering data on these cases in order to properly estimate the scale of the problem. They already operate a small sanctuary for several of the brown bears, rescued in 2016. Bears in Mind has provided funds to equipe a surgery room at the sanctuary, so bears that are brought in can undergo basic dental treatment, castration or other surgery needed.
Bears in Mind and several other international animal welfare organisations are planning to work more closely together, with the responsible Ministry in UA, in order to end captive bear suffering in the Ukraine. Hopefully, after the war in UA with the Russian occupiers, we can resume our joint and urgent tasks in the Ukraine.
Free the Bears (FTB) has constructed a brand new, 60-acre wildlife sanctuary intended to provide vital support to the government of Laos’ efforts at ending bear bile farming and the illegal trade in threatened species. The Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary will also incorporate a dedicated Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit for orphaned bear cubs. Bears in Mind will finacially assist FTB with the construction of these important units. Bear houses, outdoor enclosures covering 15,000m2 have already been constructed, along with Quarantine facilities and a fully equipped wildlife hospital.
In order to increase capacity for the housing and rearing of rescued bear cubs, FTB will develop a new Cub Nursery and Intensive Care Unit within the Luang Prabang Wildlife Sanctuary. This facility will be modeled on the existing Cub Nursery located at FTB Cambodian Bear Sanctuary which has been in operation since 2013. The new facility will offer them the opportunity to receive and raise orphaned bear cubs in a safe and secure location, away from visitors and within the site that will most probably be the bears lifetime home.
Currently no specific facilities exist for the rearing of rescued bear cubs within Laos, meaning that cubs often have to be kept in temporary enclosures or even private homes if they require around-the-clock care. As they grow older, they have to be kept in temporary enclosures within the sanctuary, often in close proximity to adult bears which may harm them should they come into contact with one another. The planned facility will incorporate overnight accommodation for staff, making night-time feeds much easier, a clean and sterile environment for food preparation and daily husbandry of cubs such as weighing or toileting. A humidicrib used for human babies will be incorporated for the tiniest of cubs – essential in Laos where overnight temperatures can drop rapidly. Finally, as cubs grow older and become more independent, tailor-made play pens will allow them to develop their locomotion skills without the risk of harming themselves.
The ICU and cub rehabilitation center was finished in 2021!
Although Nepal has successful achievements in wildlife conservation, bears are never listed as a conservation priority species. The project team from Biodiversity Conservation Society Nepal (BIOCOSNEPAL) found bear presence in Annapurna Conservation Area (ACA) up to 3,582m elevation and a population of 60 individuals in an area of 525 Km2. Villagers reported maximum crop damage by bears, especially maize. In the diet analysis, 84% of fecal samples confined agriculture crops in rainy season. The team also noticed poisoning, snaring, gunshots and killing of bears because of crop damage. Every year, 10-15 local people are injured by Asiatic black bears. The crop damage and human casualties have increased negative perceptions of local communities towards bears in general, which have led to retaliatory killing. Local communities and school students are not aware of bear ecology and behavior. Bears are not listed in the National Wildlife Damage Compensation guideline for the allocation of government support. Efforts are needed to stir up government authorities, community leaders and conservation related organizations to lead bear conservation in Nepal.
The project will engage existing local institutions for bear conservation by organizing substantial conservation education awareness programs, bear conservation workshops and promotions of bear-based tourism in the conflict prone sites of ACA. This project will assure community involvements, local budget leverage and government interventions for bear conservation in Nepal.