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This project started in 2020, focusing on the local population of Brown bears in the Dagestan mountains. Emphasis was laid on occurence and distribution of bears in Tsunta and Tlarata districts, south-western part of the Republic of Dagestan, confined to the northern slopes of the Great Caucasus Ridge. Human-Bear Conflict assessments were carried out and between 2020-2021 a total of 153 cases were registered. Mainly involved depredation on sheep. A year later, the total number increased to 171 cases.

One of the objectives is involving local people in the bear conservation program. The team was able to attract 18 locals, assisting mainly in anti-poaching activities. They were trained by gamekeepers of three local reserves. They collected information on possible poachers in villages of the study area. For nine months, anti-poaching teams detained 35 poachers who had no licenses to hunt and collected 59 illegal traps. 9 criminal and 41 administrative cases were opened, 11 fines issued and 14 arms confiscated. A year later, between 2021-2022, the anti-poaching teams arrested 75 poachers who were involved in illegal hunting activities. 15 criminal and 136 administrative cases were opened, 27 fines issued and 30 arms were confiscated.

Awareness raising is an important component of this project. The team use posters, guidebooks, school visits, leaflets, pictorial guides and community meetings to explain what they are doing and why. The main focus of these activities is to provide information about bears and other carnivore activities, their role in nature and possible competition with domestic livestock and accurate identification of killed livestock, so that people are able to distinguish depredation from other cause of loss, and can identify the species concerned so that the team can help them implement the most relevant methods to prevent further losses. In 2020, the team rolled-out the education program for 1,400 people, including; 800 school boys & girls, 600 adults. Involving of local people in the project is key objective of the project! Between 2021-2022, 1,700 people were reached in the education program; 1,000 school kids and 700 adults.

Bears in Mind will support this project into 2023.

The Brown bear (Ursus arctos) is one of the threatened large carnivore species in Armenia considered
Vulnerable” in the Red Data Book of Armenia. The species is under pressure because of habitat loss and degradation, caused by the anthropogenic persistent pressure across the country, illegal hunting, poaching and trapping. Furthermore, bear cubs are regularly captured from the wild and kept as pets. There is a lack of recent scientific data on population size, trends, distribution and behavior of Brown bears across the country. However, the research conducted in 2013 in Vayots dzor region suggests that a significant population of bears occurs in the region.

Since 2016, the Foundation for the Preservation of Wildlife and Cultural Assets (FPWC) initiated a wild fruit tree nursery in the Caucasus Nature Reserve (CWR), focusing on reducing Human-Wildlife
Conflict in Ararat and Vayots dzor regions by planting site-specific wild fruit trees. This provides nutrition from small songbirds to large mammals like bears. Since the project started, the FPWC planted more than 350,000 wild fruit trees aiming to restore the degraded lands, providing habitat for breeding, foraging and resting. Also, the land restoration programme target to tackle and minimize the climate change impact in the country.

The aim of the project supported by Bears in Mind since 2022, is to reduce and mitigate human-bear conflict in the Vayots dzor region by forming a “Rapid Response Group” to gather comprehensive data on the bear attacks and establishing site-specific wild fruit orchards and plantations to keep away the nuisance bears from the rural settlements and providing an alternative source of food and nutrition for bears and other wildlife in the long-term. Moreover, in the short term, the FPWC aims to establish a supplemental feeding programme for the bears feeding them with seasonal fruits and vegetables bought from the villagers of vulnerable communities.

Himalayan brown bears (HBBs) were common species in all mountain regions of Kyrgyzstan. However, due to anthropogenic factors in areas of habitat, the number was reduced, and in some places, the species disappeared. Locally called as aiu and used in many place names such Aiu-Bulak (spring of bear), Aiu-Tör (highland pasture of bear), or Aiu-Üngkür (cave of bear), indicating their much wider geographic presence in the past. Traditionally brown bears associated with the forest landscapes, however in conditions of the Central Asian region they occur in highland steppes as well. For instance, there is evidence of their presence in syrt zones, in alpine meadows of Khan-Tengiri mountains, Ak-Sai and Arpa highland valleys in Kyrgyzstan.

The goal of this research project by the International Mountain Institute, International University of Kyrgyzstan (supported by Bears in Mind since 2022), is to better understand and update the data on present distribution status, ecology and seasonal food habits of the HBBs. The main study site will be the Naryn State Nature Reserve, which is an important component of the habitat of nationally endangered brown bears, globally vulnerable snow leopards (Panthera uncia), Himalayan wolves and wild ungulate species such as argali, ibex, maral and roe deer.

A relatively high number of rehabilitated brown bear cubs have been released over the last years. However, do we know if these bears behave normally? Or do they present any kind of different behaviour compared with the totally wild ones? In this project a team from Fundacion Oso de Asturias (FOA) in Spain, together with experts from ARCTUROS and the IUCN Bear Specialist Group want to describe and compare the behaviours of released brown bears that have gone through a captive-rearing process (i.e. rehabilitated) with independent subadult bears that have been raised within their family group in the wild.

Specifically, the team wants to compare daily activity and movement patterns of subadult brown bears and their use or avoidance of anthropogenic habitats. On the other hand, the team also wants to evaluate complementary bear data considering other brown bear populations (e.g. British Columbia) or other bear species (e.g. American and Asiatic black bears).

The results of this study may be of particular interest for the management orphaned, wounded, or abandoned bear cubs, giving knowledge of how they behave after their release.

The target species for this project, the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) (HBB) is also the cause of escalating conflicts with humans in the Trans-Himalayan part (Ladkah) of their range in Indian Himalaya. They depredate on livestock, damage crops, and often enter villages for food. The magnitude of livestock depredation ranged from 0.6% in Kashmir to 10-40% in Ladakh. In recent years (2016-2017), HBBs were responsible for >70% of total livestock loss to carnivores in Kargil, Ladakh. The reasons for this spike in HBB depredation on livestock is unknown. These negative interactions not only dent the local livelihood and economies, but also generate an overall resentful attitude towards the species, which sometimes manifests in retaliatory killing of bears, as reported in one such incidence in the Drass region of Ladakh, where a sub-adult bear was stone-pelted and cornered to a cliff face, ending in a fall and death of that bear.

Effective measures for conflict avoidance and resolution must include social factors, including community education and stewardship. Education and awareness building programs are one of the prescribed activities in community-targeted actions for conflict management, as suggested by the IUCN’s Bear Specialist Group’s Human-bear Conflict Expert Team. These activities help in sensitizing people to know more about their surroundings including bear ecology, develop critical thinking by increasing their knowledge, and may help in changing their attitude and behaviour. Animosity to wildlife has been shown to dilute when people are made aware of the actions to avoid and tackle wildlife-conflict situations.

The specific objectives of this project, funded by Bears in Mind since 2021 and implemented by the Snow Leopard Conservancy – India Trust, are:

  • Community education to motivate sustainable use of alpine pastures and medicinal plant collection through engaging activities inspired and designed by using game theory.
  • Building dedicated stewardship of local communities for human-bear conflict avoidance and mitigation by inspiring volunteer citizens from local communities to be the ‘Bear Guardians’.

With a special focus on brown bears (Ursus arctos) and other bear species, and in collaboration with various UK zoological collections, this project by the University of Salford in the UK, aims to test the problem-solving and object-manipulation abilities of various carnivoran species. Whilst important from an ex-situ conservation standpoint – in terms of enrichment and improving bear welfare – the project also has a rigorous theoretical grounding.

Results from the trials will be measured against various social, ecological and life history factors, to help elucidate whether large brains have evolved to facilitate skills within a specific domain such as sociality (the “social brain” hypothesis) or whether they have evolved to produce a more domain-general skill set (the “cognitive buffer” hypothesis). Through testing of the “social brain” and “cognitive buffer” hypotheses, the results from this project will go toward confirming the origins of cognition, and highlighting the cognitive capacity of carnivoran, specifically bear, species. For bears we foresee conservation pay-offs resulting from public perception changes that have been previously afforded to other “intelligent” taxa.

Here is a link to the scientific article by Helen Chambers.

Bears in Mind funded part of the research.

(c) Header photo bear with puzzle box: Kathryn Page

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 East Balkan distribution of brown bears is comprised of two presently connected population segments; the Central Balkan and the Rilo-Rhodopean bear population, shared by Bulgaria and Greece. With more than eight known human bear accidents, including one lethal between 2010-2017 as well as increasesd caused in bear damages, Smolyan region in Bulgaria has become a “hot-spot” for anti-bear attitudes. As a result there is a high risk of bear poaching increase. Localised monitoring has provided a rough estimate of population size but until today a joint rigorous methodology has not been carried out. As knowledge of precise demographic parameters is imperative for the design of assessing mortality and designing conservation actions, estimating the bears in the region seems urgent.

This project, led by Balkani Wildlife Society and supported by Bears in Mind, aims to estimate the population size of the East Balkan distribution of brown bears using non-invasive capture-recapture multiple data source genetic methods. The main overall objective is to provide accurate estimates for total (N) and effective population size (Ne) for one of the largest distribution clusters of the brown bear in Europe.

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 has ended, we can resume our joint and urgent tasks in the Ukraine. 

On August 3 2019, bears Medo & Buya were loaded onto a transport van which took them all the way from the small town of Vlahi in Bulgaria to the small town of Aprica in Northern Italy. It was a long but successful journey, where the bears were actually very calm throughout the trip.

On August the 4th they arrived in Aprica and were taken up the mountain to their new home. Their 10,000sq meter natural forested enclosure is part of an education centre for Alpine wildlife: https://www.parcorobievalt.com/centri-visitatori/osservatorio-eco-faunistico-alpino

During the next days both bears settled in nicely, each their own separate indoor enclosure. After several weeks of exploring the forested outdoor enclosure, the bears were finally reunited again!

They are doing very well and we hope that they will have many wonderful years to come!

Let’s take you back a bit…

Bear Medo was rescued from a circus in 2004 and via temporary keeping in Sofia Zoo, placed at the large carnivore centre in Vlahi in 2006. With financial help from Bears in Mind a special enclosure was built. The main purpose of housing the bear in Vlahi was educational, as living ambassador for his kind. The visitors of the Large Carnivore Education Centre which opened in Spring 2007, had the chance to see a bear in semi natural environment and to observe behaviour close to the natural. Visitors learned more about bears in the wild and the real needs of conserving the species. They received information about the purpose of having the bear there and about the LC centre. School groups which visited Medo, received special lectures about bears in the wild. Local people accepted the bear very positively, with big interest and Medo often received gifts like a big bag with apples (or other fruits), cabbage, tomatoes, etc. The Balkani Wildlife Society (BWS) team was very happy to see that, as it was important for Medo’s long term stay in the village.

In April 2014 bear Medo got a new neighbour: bear Buya from Kormisosh! Bears in Mind helped BWS financially to build a new enclosure for Buya. Once it was finished and all permits were in, Buya moved out of Kormisosh to her new home in Vlahi.

Unfortunately, due to the rough economic situation in Bulgaria and more specifically for NGOs like BWS, funds quickly dried up and the bears could no longer be kept in Vlahi. After Bears in Mind funded their care for another year, it was decided to find a new and safe home for Medo & Buya.