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Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) habitat is being degraded and fragmented in the Indian sub-continent. More than 85% of the Sloth bear population occurs in India, which is facing multiple threats such as habitat fragmentation, degradation and human-sloth bear conflict. While protected Sloth bear habitats are studied well, Sloth bear ranges in unprotected area have a lack of information and research. It is very important to understand the status and movement of Sloth bears in non-protected areas for conservation actions.

Previous studies also reveal that most of the Sloth bear attacks are prevailing in the non-protected areas and in the villages on the fringes of forests. The present research, carried out by WCB Lab, Department of Life Sciences, Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University, aims to study habitat quality, movement of Sloth bear and Human-Bear  Conflicts in non-protected areas of Gujarat state of western India. It is felt that the findings of this research study would be lighten up status of Sloth bear and its habitat in Gujarat and would be also helpful in preparing conservation and management plans for such non-protected forest areas of the state, focusing on Sloth bear conservation and mitigating Human-Bear Conflicts.

Bears in Mind financially supports the research by WCB Lab in India since 2022.

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’.

In India, habitat fragmentation and destruction is one of the main threats to bears, others being poaching for bile extraction (this has started in India according to a recent report), poaching for meat (rampant in some states) and human/animal conflict within or near the forest.

Public awareness
India is very progressive when it comes to bear education. Bears in Mind has supported the educational work of the local NGO Zoo Outreach Organisation (ZOO). Their education project reaches schools, zoos and museums. Back in the day, the problems with dancing bears in India are considerable. Several thousands of cubs, usually sloth bears, were been taken from their mothers and trained to be dancing bears. ZOO managed to make people aware of the suffering that is caused by this ancient, yet cruel tradition. Between 2002-2012 teaching packages were made with financial support of Bears in Mind. These packages consisted of all sorts of educational games, t-shirts, stickers and posters. More importantly, information about the way brown bears, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears and Sun bears in India were threatened, was included. India is the only country with four different bear species and it is therefore very important to protect them all.

ZOO Outreach Organization has been working with Bears in Mind for 10 years to improve the welfare of bears in India as well as their conservation in the wild. This has been done entirely with education, starting with a conservation education programme aimed at two groups; the visiting public (or organisations which educate them) and the zoo directors of zoos that have bears in their collection. 6,000 bear packets have been printed and ordered by 59 organisation and 8,000 posters have been printed and ordered by 56 different organizations.

In the 2000s, approximately 600 dancing bears were counted in India. By 2009 all were saved and relocated by Wildlife SOS, to their four dancing bear sanctuaries. This organization does not only save the bears, it also provided the former bear owners with an alternative livelihood. Bears in Mind supported Wildlife SOS in such projects.

Wildlife SOS dealt with the problem by addressing it at the source. As soon as an alert came in, about a dancing bear, the intervention team from Wildlife SOS and the responsible authorities rushed to the location. The bear was confiscated and the owner apprehended. Following this, a social program was started, in collaboration with the Indian government. The bear was the main source of income for these poor families of the Kalandar communities. Wildlife SOS helped the families to develop new means of income. The owner got 50,000 rupee for compensation, the children were sent to school and the owner was assisted in finding an alternative way to earn income for his family.

Since the end of 2009, no more bears danced the streets of India. Read more here:

Dancing Bears in India – Final Curtain

With financial help of Bears in Mind, four young Sloth bears were rescued and brought to the shelter of the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature (2009). The purpose of this organization is to provide a first and safe haven for the bears. The organization has close contact with the government and the larger rescue centers in India. Once there is permanent place for the bear(s), it will be moved to one of the specialized centers. Besides bears, the Karuna Society for Animals and Nature also rescues other (wild) animals. Animals are reintroduced back into the wild whenever this is possible. Bears however, have often been in contact with humans for too long and will become too habituated to people, making release in the wild impossible.

In 2008 Indian wildlife NGO ‘WildlifeSOS’ started the training of rangers under the project: ‘Asiatic black bear Conservation Education and Training Programme in Kashmir, India’. They were trained to deal with the capture of bears and other wild animals. Practice with a tranquilizer gun was very important. In addition, they were also trained in dealing with angry mobs that wanted to kill bears or leopards that came too close, also in retalliation as resulting in conflicts. Wild animals should be calmly approached and treated. This minimizes stress levels and is safer for the ranger / handler. There are a number of trained people now in almost every region of the project. They respond immediately, as soon as a bear incident is reported.

Local people learn about the behaviour of wild animals and how they can avoid conflicts. Once there has been an incident with a bear or other wild animal somewhere, village meetings are held. The people of WildlifeSOS explain how the bears can be kept as far from the villages as possible. They also teach the communities how to avoid bears in the future and urge them to report every bear incident as quickly as possible. Even schoolchildren are included in the education programme. They learn about bears, how beautiful they are, but also how important they are to the ecosystem. Through workshops and training the locals will have a more positive attitude towards bears. Moreover, their fear for bears will decrease. Almost every bear incident is reported, unlike before. In the past the only message that came from the village with a bear incident was that the bear had been burned alive or stoned to death. Not only bears benefit from this project; virtually no other wild animal in this area has been killed by the locals ever since it started.