Sloth bear’s shrinking habitat

A sloth bear enjoys a nap on a cloudy afternoon at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in Visakhapatnam.- Photo: K. R. Deepak  

arly morning sightings of grumbling, shuffling furry visions in black are becoming common for villagers in Telangana where habitat destruction has been driving sloth bears into human habitations.

Often, the straying animals fall into agricultural wells, to be found by early risers. Rescuing them is a huge task for local forest officials who are usually untrained in trapping the beasts. The textbook method of tranquilising the animal before trapping and heaving it out is a tedious process.

“Nowadays, we just drop a ladder into the well and wait for the daybreak. The animal, otherwise scared of humans, would use the ladder to escape under the cover of the darkness,” said an official from the Telangana Forest Department. Sometimes, fruits and bread and jam are kept at the top end of the ladder, either as a lure or as a treat. All this is fine as long as the bear has an abode to go back to, which one cannot be sure of anymore, thanks to rampant habitat destruction by granite mines. And the Forest Department has its hands tied as many hillocks do not fall under the reserve forests. “Their habitat includes areas outside the reserve forest. Of late, there is some concern about this animal’s habitat loss across the State. The situation is especially worse in Karimnagar owing to granite quarrying,” the officer said. Rescue of the animal in the open is not simple. Divisional Forest Officer (West) of Karimnagar, G. Narsaiah informed that at least two or three cases of bear attacks are brought to his notice every month, when the animals stray into the villages fleeing from rock blasting.

“About 40 mandals in my jurisdiction are marked by sparse vegetation and hillocks – ideal environment for the bear. Over 400 granite mines here are leading to rampant habitat loss for them,” Dr. Narsaiah said.

In 2013, after a widespread agitation, the State government issued orders mandating joint inspections by the Revenue, Forest and Mining officials before granting mining permissions. However, the orders have been revoked recently, giving free hand to the mining operators, sources said.

An intensive study on density and distribution of sloth bear could yield valuable result, as the animal is not expected to exist in high numbers here. Being highly territorial, it is not found in groups, and its density at any single location might not exceed 10 or 20, the officials said.

Only one meeting has been conducted for the State under the National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan, before bifurcation, Deepak R., Field Research and Education Officer, WWF-India, said. Status reports from all divisions were sent to the Ministry of Environment and Forests five years ago, but no conservation plan has been drawn.

Bears have also been facing poaching in Adilabad, besides being in conflict with other carnivores at Amrabad Tiger Reserve.

At least two or three cases of bear attack are brought to my notice every month, when the animals stray into the villages fleeing from rock blasting

G. Narsaiah

Divisional Forest Officer (West), Karimnagar

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 9:22:41 AM |

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