Gangtok, Nov. 3: Three senior forest officers were mauled by a Himalayan black bear on the outskirts of the state capital this morning while trying to dart it in a hide-and-seek episode that was played out for over six hours.
The injured officers are J.B. Subba, a joint director of the forest department, B.B. Gurung, the divisional forest officer (territorial) of East Sikkim, and Sonam Tshering, the medical assistant of the Himalayan Zoological Park at Bulbuley,
Subba was the most severely injured and the first person to be attacked by the bear. Witnesses said he fell while trying to tranquillise the animal, which soon caught up with him. The officer escaped by a whisker but the bears flailing claws struck him on the left side of the face.
Gurung was clawed on the left leg and thigh, while Tshering dislocated his right arm when he fell, trying to flee. All the three were admitted to the Sir Thutob Namgayal Memorial Hospital in Gangtok. A forest officer said they were likely to be flown to Siliguri for treatment.
Nearly eight darts were fired at the bear, listed under Schedule I (most endangered) of the Wildlife Protection Act, during the six-hour chase-and-confrontation.
A senior forest officer present at the spot said all the darts did not hit the bear. Most of them missed the target, and some fell off while the bear was moving around. Later, when it emerged from the bamboo thicket it was hit by two more darts and it fell unconscious, I cannot tell you exactly how many darts hit the bear, he said.
At the end of six hours, at 1.30pm, the tranquillised animal was taken to the zoo in Bulbuley in a cage.
Pema Zangmo Bhutia, a resident of Setey Bazaar, barely 500 metres from the district administrative complex in Gangtok, spotted the bear around 7am when she woke up to the clucking of chicken outside her home. I saw the animal in a nearby field and immediately alerted my husband who called up the forest department. Many people had seen the bear in the area in the past three days, she said.
Within an hour, a team of more than 20 personnel from the forest department, headed by chief wildlife warden N.T. Bhutia and chief conservator of forests H.P. Pradhan, arrived.
They cordoned off the area with police help.
"Around noon, when we thought that the bear had fallen asleep, the forest officers tried to get closer and that was when it struck. Subba, who was attacked first, could have been killed had not a police sub-inspector, Samir Pradhan, pelted the animal with stones. The bear then let go of Subba," a witness said.
N.B. Dahal, the assistant conservator of forests of Bulbuley zoological park, said the bear weighed close to 90kg.
Senior forest officials said the animal might have strayed into the area from the Rateychu forest, which starts from the outskirts of the state capital.
This is not the first time that bears have strayed into Gangtok. Back in 1998, a bear had entered the toilet of the Sikkim Time Corporation but was darted and relocated to the forest. Another was spotted in the Legislative Assembly compound at Nam Nang but was chased away, a forest official recalled. But this is the first time that human beings were attacked.
Last month, a bear had clawed the headmaster of Changey Junior High School in Dentam, about 100km from here.
In January last year, forest officials shot dead a male bear in Bakhim near the Rayong forest after it had made a habit of killing chicken and goats and entering homes in the area. Dry winter months and the resulting lack of food in the forest often drove the bears towards human habitation, a forest officer said.