|(From top) Sloth bear, black bear and sun bear
Guwahati, Nov. 28: Assam is making a fresh and significant attempt towards bear conservation.
From observing Bear Day during wildlife week to providing incentives to those helping in rescue and rehabilitation of bears and targeting bear as a key species, the state forest department has prepared a conservation plan for the first time.
Assam is known to house three species of bears — sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus). All the three species are ecologically distinct from each other but are present in different parts of the state because of its very rich and diverse habitats.
“The vision of the bear conservation plan is to have a secure habitat for maintaining a viable population of bears in the state and the goal is to encourage bear population expansion within the available distribution range without bear-human interactions impacting negatively,” a state wildlife official said. The only problem is the lack of information on the population estimates of all three bear species, as it has not been carried out by the state forest department or other organisations.
Sloth bear distribution ranges from 50-1,000 metres (mostly in plains) while black bear ranges from 50-1,900 metres (covering both plains and hills) and that of sun bear ranges from 80-1,900 metres (mostly covering the hills). Most of the habitats of all three bear species have been adversely impacted in Assam because of slash-and-burn or jhum cultivation (mainly in the northern slopes of Karbi Anglong), deforestation and encroachment (for settlement and farming), various development activities and expanding tea plantations of the small growers.
The plan calls for keeping aside selected forest patches for non-jhuming in Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao and Cachar with community consent. Habitat improvement must be taken up to ensure proper protection and conservation of all bear species found in Assam. It says bear-human conflict zones in Assam should be delineated and indicated on maps and the capacity of village defence parties may be enhanced to address bear-human conflict situations. “Orphaned bear cubs, which are displaced because of various reasons should be rehabilitated. Rapid response mobile units and rescue centres may be established in significant bear-occupying areas,” the plan recommends.
On ways to conserve bear habitats, it says fragmentation of the bear habitats because of construction of roads and other development activities should be avoided as much as possible. Unplanned growth of tourist resorts not matching with the natural landscape around protected areas should be discouraged/restricted. The department has called for creating a database on poaching and trade in bear and bear body parts.
Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand, however, said it would be difficult to say when the population estimation can be done.