Homesick 'bears' of Kashmir escape from National Park to their original habitat

Homesick 'bears' Of Kashmir Escape From National Park To Their Original Habitat

Bears escape National Park Dachigam at the outskirts of Srinagar, to their original habitat, even after their relocation, latest research conducted by scientists of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun with a grant from American Bear Association, said.

"Movement of bears in Dachigam landscape is largely governed by the availability of food. We have seen bear congregation at few sites in Dachigam National Park when surplus food resources were available. But in adverse conditions of food scarcity, they prefer to move those areas where they have found food in the previous years. Bears tend to have a sharp memory and thus have homing instinct," Dr. Mukesh Thakur, one of researchers, told Mail Today.

The researchers are Dr. Mukesh Thakur, Dr. Lalit Kumar, Dr. Amina Charoo.
Dr. Thakur who along with his colleagues started study in 2007 said translocation was not enough to control human-bear conflicts. He said Dachigam National Park is recognised as one of the highest density bear populations in India and managing bear-human interactions has become a serious issue for the wildlife department of Jammu and Kashmir. Dachigam National Park has 3 to 4 bears per square km.

To curb growing incidences of bear attacks of human population, the wildlife department as a strategic planning prefers translocating 'nuisance bears' or 'problem bears who are involved in conflicts from different sites to Dachigam National Park.

Translocation involves physical capture and release bears to a new location, away from the site of conflict. "While it sounds positive, it is not always effective as all translocated bears do not settle to their new home. Instead majority bears often return to their capture sites due to retaining sharp memory and homing tendency," Dr Thakur said.

During the study, "Conflict bear translocation: investigating population genetics and fate of bear translocation in Dachigam National Park, Jammu and Kashmir, India" the three scientists tracked the movement patterns of translocated bears through DNA fingerprinting.

Dr Thakur said molecular tracking of translocated bears revealed that mostly bears (7 out of 11 bears) returned to their capture sites, possibly due to homing instincts or habituation to the high quality food available in agricultural croplands and orchards.

"Results indicated that translocation success was most likely to be season dependent as bears translocated during spring and late autumn returned to their capture sites, perhaps due to the scarcity of food inside Dachigam National Park while bears translocated in summer remained in Dachigam National Park due to availability of surplus food resources," he added.

He said the bears after their escape from Dachigam National Park were recaptured within five kms radius of their original habitat where from they were captured for entering into conflict with human beings and then translocated to Dachigam National Park.

The researchers say the study is the first exhaustive attempt in unveiling the pragmatic fate of bear translocation. "Before this study, there was not even an issue of bear settlement and we only highlighted that not all translocated bears get settled instead several come out tracking their food resources," Dr.  Thakur said.

The scientists say translocation is hard on the bears themselves. "As they attempt to return home, bears may come into conflict with humans in different ways such as being hit by vehicles or shot by poachers."

The research suggests that translocation is, at best, a short-term solution to human-bear conflicts, and is far from being a positive choice from an animal welfare standpoint.

"Instead translocation carried out unknowingly can be more problematic since it will result in over augmentation and demographic consequences which may aggravate rather mitigate conflicts in the immediate vicinity of Dachigam National Park."

In recent years there has been sharp rise in bear attacks on humans, livestock and bears were found damaging agricultural or horticulture crops. In 2008-9, 25 people were killed and 342 injured by bears in Kashmir. By 2011-12 the number reached 40 and 562 respectively.

Even the Royal Springs Golf Course, which is in close vicinity of the National Park, has seen bear attacks in past with bears entering the RSGC and damaging its imported grass. The RSGC in 2010 raised special fencing all across the course to wade of bears. Bears in past also attacked vehicles at high security Gopkhar road, which is in close vicinity of the park.

Sharad Vats


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