Centre to boost bear conservation plans

The Central government may bear the medical expenses of those injured by bears straying into human habitation, thereby triggering man-animal conflict.

Reduction of human conflict with bears will be a priority for the Environment Ministry and wildlife scientists who drafted the national bear conservation and welfare action plan. The ministry may provide some financial assistance to save the animal, whose numbers are dwindling in India, thanks to retaliatory killing and illegal trade.

India is home to four variants of bears, of which the number of brown bears found in the hills of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand has come down to 300, while there is not even any rough estimation of the number of sun bears in the forests of Arunachal Pradesh and adjoining states.

The number of black bears, found in 12 states, varies between 5,400 and 6,750. However, the most common variant is the sloth bear (over 20,000), found in 19 states, which have become extinct fairly recently in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“The Environment Ministry has promised either a Project Bear – on the lines of the Project Tiger and the Project Elephant – or provide additional resources for bear conservation under the integrated wildlife habitat management programme,” said S Sathyakumar, a scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and one of the authors of the national plan.

The plan – being discussed at an international conference here – summarises the threats faced by bears and outlines actions to be undertaken by the states for their conservation and welfare by 2017. “Conflict reduction and poaching are the immediate concerns,” he told Deccan Herald.

Taking care of medical expenses of the people injured by bears will be one crucial step towards curbing the conflicts. Every year, close to 500 people are injured by bears who stray into human habitations, either due to loss of habitats or in search of food. Retaliatory action by the people often leads to the death of the animals.

Karnataka, the national plan stated, is one state where the bears live peacefully, thanks to the Daroji bear park and better maintenence of protected areas.

However, the story is different in other states where the bears stray outside the protected forests which remain unguarded. Moreover, bear habitats face anthropogenic pressure and scientific information as well as general awareness on bear conservation is wanting, Sathyakumar said.

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