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 problem of keeping bears in captivity has a two decades-long history in Georgia. The animals are kept predominantly for local and international tourists’ attraction in restaurants, petrol stations, monasteries, along and nearby the central highway that crosses the country horizontally (Batumi-Dedoplistskaro, approx. 800 km). The issue is linked to two major problems: contribution to wild population decline and inhumane treatment of animals. Many organizations (including Bears in Mind, NACRES, Tbilisi Zoo, some voluntary shelters, government of Georgia etc.) have been dealing with this problem since the collapse of Soviet Union. Remarkable success was achieved through the implementation of different concrete projects; however, the problem still exists (although not to the devastating degrees as it was observed in the 90s) and bears (predominantly cubs) still occur in captivity every spring. Mostly they are still in deplorable conditions. In parallel, concerned organizations, at this moment, do not have credible monitoring data and it is not exactly known how many bears there are in (illegal) captivity throughout Georgia. Moreover, effective legislation of Georgia prescribes fines to an owner, confiscation of a bear and moving it to a shelter. Nevertheless, the limited capacity of shelters (including the national zoo) in conjunction to the low awareness of the population leads the government (also the judicial system) to be inactive and “close its eyes” to the problem.
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.
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.
Participants agreed that more data has to be gathered to study the long-term effects, before it can be determinded whether or not reintroducing (often orphaned) bears is beneficial to the species in the wild. The workshop was a cooperation betweeen Bears in Mind and the Bear Taxon Advisory Group (Bear TAG) of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA).
Reintroduction in Italy
In the mountains in the Trentino region, wild bears from Slovenia are being introduced. Slovenia has a healthy bear population. Another possibility of reintroduction of bears is the rehabilitation of orphaned bears. In such a programme orphaned cubs whose mother has been shot or died in an accident, are being taken care of in a special rehabilitation centre. They are raised and then taught to become wild bears again. If the cubs are grown and can fend for themselves, they are released back into the wild. There is presently not enough data to make claims about the long-term effects of these reintroductions. People are still unsure as to what happens to the bears when they grow older. Time will provide the necessary data.
The first workshop ‘Brown Bear Management in Slovakia’ was held in July 2011. Hunters, foresters, nature conservationists, government representatives, farmers and beekeepers, as well as representatives from the police and the university attended the workshop. Dr. Alistair Bath skilfully led the different parties with conflicting interests towards finding solutions and reaching agreement. Dr. Bath is an expert in the area of Human Dimensions in Wildlife Management. All participants, including the Department for Environment, expressed the wish to participate in a second workshop. This workshop was held in October of the same year and was equally successful. A subsequent workshop was organised in 2012, and a conceptual management plan for the brown bear in Slovakia was drawn.
Several years later the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic has begun preparing management plan-type documents for the bear / wolf / lynx / wildcat. Undoubtedly, the groundwork for the bear plan was layed down by Dr. Bath and SWS!
Bear Emergency Team (BET)
A ‘BET’ swings into action as soon as a bear is sighted near areas inhabited by humans. Acting swiftly is beneficial to both humans and bears. The members of a BET are appointed by the Department for Environment. Bears in Mind has provided funds in order to organise a Bear Emergency Team training session. The training is provided by Dr. Djuro Huber, a Croatian bear expert who has been collaborating with Bears in Mind for quite some time. The team also strives to help avoid conflict involving bears and assists the government with registration of all bear-related incidents. This also includes traffic accidents involving bears.
In East Kalimantan (Indonesia) Sun bear habitat is rapidly shrinking due to forest conversion and fires for palm oil monoculture development. As a result of this sun bears are now commonly held as pets and conflict with humans occurs when bears enter gardens or feed on crops. Despite this, the Balikpapan municipality decided in 2001 to make the sun bear its mascot. This has led to a better protection of the last bit of primal forest where bears live (the Sungai Wain forest), and a heightened awareness among the locals. The sanctuary is surrounded by an elevated bridge. From this bridge visitors can see the bears play, climb, and dig. Local guides are trained to give visitors information.
Threats to the sun bear
Visitors at the KWPLH Education Centre can access information through painted panels, paintings, bear statues and interactive displays. All the education material is being made by local artists. Local goverment has been very positive since the start of the project, and they contribute in the daily management costs. The Sun bear or Malayan bear is a protected species in Indonesia, but law enforcement is not very strict. Because large parts of the forest are still turned into plantations or cut down for agriculture, many bears loose their habitat. In search for food they sometimes come too close to human settements. Cubs are taken from the wild and are often kept as a pet, until they grow too large (and dangerous) to maintain and end their life in misery in a small cage or are sold for meat or other parts.
The latest financial support from Bears in Mind is directed towards:
1) Development and printing of a number of awareness materials;
‐ Design and production of new sun bear activity booklet;
‐ Re-printing of Sun Bear booklet for distribution among visitors;
‐ Production of variety of sun bear promotional materials;
2) Repairs/maintenance to visitor boardwalk; sun bear holding area; sun bear enclosure;
3) Improved visitor education through guide training.
Bears in Mind continues to help sanctuaries for the rehoming of abused and mistreated bears and supports education programs on the subject. For the rescue and rehabilitation (and permanent rehoming) of the bears in Asia, Bears in Mind supports Animals Asia Foundation. In Vietnam a rescue centre was established (Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary) where Bears in Mind funded an education project for visitors of the centre to experience. In the China Bear Rescue Centre various so-called 'bear dens' were co-financed.
Bears in Mind has supported various other projects in this region (see links to the projects below) and continues to do so by helping to set up an educational centre. After completion, the educational centre (which was also built with Bears in Mind support) is in full use! Not only school children, but also many students and tourists visit the centre to learn about Bulgarian nature which features information on the carnivores mentioned earlier. A small shop has been opened and visitors can enjoy coffee and a snack in the small café. On the second floor an interactive exhibition is set up, highlighting examples of conflicts between humans and carnivores and their possible solutions. In addition, a room is converted to make it suitable for workshops and (small) conferences.
Near the educational centre the bear enclosure for former circusbear Medo and bear Buya (from Kormisosh) was built. At the beginning of August 2019 these bears have been relocated to a new home in Northern Italy.
The primary goal of the educational project funded by Bears in Mind (2011-2012) was to increase awareness among school children and students about the situation in which captive bears in Thailand live. Staff members of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) gave presentations at schools and universities on the abuse and mistreatment of bears. These presentations were supplemented with educational material in the form of a booklet (both in English and in Thai) describing the threat to and the ways to protect bears in Southeast Asia. The booklet provided examples of bears, which have been saved by the WFFT. It also further explains the welfare problems of bears living in captivity and provided general information about wild bears in Thailand.
The sanctuary Although mostly elephants, monkeys, crocodiles, snakes and orang-utans are used for human entertainment in Thailand, bears are often kept locked up in small cages in so-called zoos. Moreover, they are also kept illegally as pets. Small bear cubs look very cute when they are still young, however as they grow bigger they become aggressive, unmanageable and thus dangerous to people. Most bear owners end up dropping their ‘pets’ off at a temple or an animal sanctuary. Since its initiation, WFFT has rescued more than 1,500 animals, primarily monkeys (macaques, gibbons and langurs), tigers and bears (Asiatic black bears and Sun bears).
On the website, childeren are being welcomed by one of the bears from the Bear Forest. He tells about the good life in the Bear Forest, and how bad it was in the past, being a circus bear or dancing bear. Now the bears are well cared for! There are many things to do and explore on the website. Ringtones, movies, photos and the Big Bear Quiz. The ‘Learning Bear’ tells visitors about the Bear Forest, the inhabitants, other bear species and of course bear threats. When clicking on the nose of the ‘More Bear’s’ (who goes into more detail), children can ask questions.
Bears in Mind highly values education of children. This is not only stimulated in countries where bears occur and / or bear-human conflicts happen, but also in the Netherlands. Many people are not aware how bears are used and mistreated by certain people. The sooner knowledge and understanding is taught and awareness is created, the sooner people will actively start protecting bears!