Rare sighting: Brown bears return to Kargil

BARE NECESSITIES: In this photo by Intesar Suhail, Wildlife Warden, Kargil, the family of bears seem at ease in their mountain home.

BARE NECESSITIES: In this photo by Intesar Suhail, Wildlife Warden, Kargil, the family of bears seem at ease in their mountain home.  


Wildlife officials spot ursine family in sector where their natural habitat was damaged by 1999 war.

The J&K Wildlife Department has recorded its first ever sighting of a group of eight Himalayan brown bears in Kargil’s Drass Sector, where the 1999 war had wreaked havoc with their habitats.

“The sighting of eight brown bears, including three adult females and five grown-up cubs, is a rare record. No such sighting has ever been reported from J&K, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, where these animals are distributed,” Kargil Wildlife Warden Intesar Suhail told The Hindu over phone from Kargil, 200 km away from Srinagar.

A Wildlife Department team, headed by Mr. Suhail, spotted the rare Himalayan brown bears, in Ladakh’s Drass area with mountain ranges of 16,000 to 21,000 feet, just before the sunrise on May 12.

“We trekked for two-and-a-half hours and spotted these animals. Otherwise sightings are only reported during the night, that too of a solitary bear or with a cub. Besides these eight, we expect at least three male bears to active the area,” he said.

Den nearby

Two days later, the team spotted a brown bear and a cub in the afternoon, again a rare sighting. “It seems there is a den. It is a memorable sight for me as wildlife researcher,” said Mr. Suhail.

The sighting of such relatively large numbers of Himalayan brown bears in just one wildlife zone out of four major areas of Suru, Zanskar, Drass and Kargil in the Ladakh region is a positive indication.

A brown bear requires about 100 square kilometer as its territory to survive and any human intervention disturbs its ecology. “However, in Drass, people have made videos of brown bears in different far-off areas. Besides, the Wildlife Department recorded 25 raids on cattle sheds by brown bears in the past six months in Kargil, reflecting growing numbers,” said Mr. Suhail, whose department is working on a brown bear census.

The Wildlife Department is upbeat as the increasing numbers are testimony to the fact that the negative impact of the 1999 Kargil war, with heavy artillery shelling for almost three months that devastated the bear habitat, seems to be waning.

“The Tiger Hill, one of the battle fields, was a prominent brown bear habitat. The war and the movement of troops did impact the animal’s behavior and ecology,” said Mr. Suhail.

In 2010, an extensive survey, ‘Carnivore-human conflict in Kargil and Drass’, carried by the Rufford Small Grant and the State Wildlife Department in the district did not record a single Himalayan brown bear sighting.

Only 11 indirect sightings, based on scat, scrape and pug-marks, were reported.

Sightings of brown bear, which is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' list of vulnerable animals, has come down significantly in Kashmir Valley too in the past few decades.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 3:26:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/rare-sighting-brown-bears-return-to-kargil/article8612214.ece

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