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Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) are distributed across the lowlands of Nepal. Despite being categorized as
vulnerable, this species still does not receive sufficient attention for its conservation. Furthermore, sloth
bears can play a significant role in balancing ecosystems by consuming harmful insects.

The aim of this study by the Environment Protection and Study Center (ENPROSC) is to address the lack of information about Sloth bears, focusing on areas with high bear populations but inadequate research. To collect field data, a grid of 2×2 square kilometres will be established within the forest. 30 camera trapping grids will be chosen using an alternate grid layout for 15 days. This technique will be set up for three times more in different grids, resulting in a total coverage of 120 grids for camera trapping in the study area. Additionally, a questionnaire survey will be conducted in Lamahi, Rapti, Rajpur and Gadhawa. Further analysis will be conducted using appropriate model and techniques.

The project’s expected outputs include baseline study report, a human-bear conflict status and a management plan to the conservation of sloth bear. This project endeavours to bridge knowledge gaps, provides new insights besides the protected areas, and contribute to the overall ecological well-being of the study area. Bears in Mind has financially contributed in the project.

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.

The status of Sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) outside of protected areas in Nepal is unclear. This new project supported by Bears in Mind aims to investigate Sloth bear distribution, habitat use and conservation threats for the first time in a critical corridor of Lumbini Province.

Anecdotal records of bear signs, seizure of bear skin and bile, and very recent capturing of a bear cub in retaliation to a conflict event suggest a threatened Sloth bear population. Therefore, this project seeks to break barriers to Sloth bear conservation by initiating bear-specific research and conservation activities using camera traps, sign surveys, and evaluation of habitat and conservation threats.

The project also seeks to bring awareness and ignite bear monitoring and conservation through community outreach activities. Outputs from the project will be valuable for local-level conservation and development planning and for formulating a national bear conservation strategy and action plan for Nepal.

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.

Photos (c) Greenhood Nepal

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.

The project team has interviewed important ‘stakeholders’ who come into contact with the Red panda: park rangers and people who work in the buffer zones of national parks and conservation areas, but also farmers, shepherds, foresters, teachers, monks and law enforcement officers. The most important factors determining the distribution of the Red panda are altitude, vegetation and the aspect of a mountain slope. These factors will all be analysed in the research area, especially between 2,800m and 4,000m altitude. Reports indicate that in Nepal, India and Bhutan the Red panda only lives at these altitudes. Research has been carried out into habitat selection and sightings were recorded. A detailed distribution map has been composed, which also includes data gathered during earlier research in Nepal. The distribution map will not only help in determining (large) gaps in the distribution of the Red panda, but will also help identify (possible) corridors between protected areas or pinpoint those areas where corridors could be created. In addition, predictions can be made as to the effects of climate change on the distribution of the Red panda by comparing the current data with data from earlier research in Nepal.

Despite the fact that Red pandas occurred in the subtropical and temperate forest between 2,800m – 4,000m associated with bamboo thicket, a similar habitat to the present study areas of ANCA and KNP, the team did not find any Red pandas or any signs in both areas. In contrast, the results of social survey in ANCA indicated that the presence of Red pandas in ANCA. However, it seems that local people have limited knowledge about Red pandas, so results should be taken with caution. Further, the use of non-invasive technology such as camera trapping should be employed to confirm presence or absence of Red pandas in the study areas.

Increased knowledge and awareness among local people regarding the lifestyle of bears is of great importance if we want to adequately protect wild animals like bears. Unfortunately, in Nepal, knowledge and awareness about these topics is still lacking. Therefore, education programmes for schools, training for the local people and an eco-club have been set up for this project between 2011-2014. The desired outcome from this training was that local people learned how to deal with bears within their immediate vicinity and received information regarding the protection of bears and nature in general. Multiple workshops for shepherds and civil servants were also organised under this programme.

More about bear research in Nepal
Data relating to the bear population was collected through a wide range of different methods. Researchers interviewed people from the villages in the areas where conflicts between humans and bears occurred, DNA material is collected from hair samples and droppings, and tracks (such as claw marks on trees, footprints on the ground and traces of digging) were investigated. Information was also collected about the habitat such as the type of forest, slopes, the soil types and tracks of other animals. All of the information collected was processed and analysed via a specially developed computer program. The ultimate objective of this project was to contribute to the National Brown Bear Conservation Action Plan whose primary goal is to provide protection to the brown bear in Nepal. This is still an ongoing process.

The following has been achieved during the two projects in Nepal:

1) Presence/absence surveys of the brown bear in all potential areas of the corridor between Annapurna Conservation Area and Shey Phoksundo NP and within the protected areas.
2) Examine distribution and habitat use of brown bears in the study areas.
3) Investigate human-wildlife conflict in the region and quantify the damage and conflict created by brown bears.
4) Investigate the diet of brown bears and assess the percentage of livestock and other wild prey in the brown bear’s diet.
5) Draft the Brown Bear Conservation Action Plan for Nepal.