Animal lovers in Kashmir are rejoicing after the rare Himalayan brown bear was sighted in the state after years of absence. In the past 20 months the animal has been seen five times, making conservationists to believe that the bear is returning to the valley.
The Himalayan brown bear is a sub species of the Brown bear. It is a critically endangered animal owing to it’s limited habitat in the Himalayan regions of India and Pakistan. With Kashmir under the grip of militancy, the brown bear was one of the important animals of the region that confined it’s movements and was rarely seen in the state in the past 25 years.
“People were presuming that there were no brown bears left in this part of the world. But, since April 2014, we had five sightings of the animal,” said Mohammad Maqbool Baba, wildlife warden of north Kashmir.
According to him there were 3 brown bears seen around Handwara-Zachaldara belt of the Kupwara district this year. This area is near the Line Of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan.
In 2012, a bear had been sighted in Rajwara area of Kupwara and again in 2014 2 bears were seen in Farkangali and Kachhama areas.
A Rare Sight
Sadly, there is no correct population estimation of the brown bears in India because of the rarity of their sighting. According to an estimate by Wildlife Institute of India in 2006, there could be about 500-750 brown bears in India. It’s known that the species has entirely disappeared from Bhutan and only 150-200 exist in Pakistan.
Wildlife warden of the park Imtiyaz Ahmad Lone speaking to Hindustan Times said he has never seen the animal despite spending the past 25 years of his life in the field.
“The past two decades of disturbance destroyed the habitat of this animal. The animal loves upper alpine areas and we know how things turned out in Kashmir’s forests and mountains,” he said.
As daily conflicts have been brought under control over the past few years, the bears too possibly have begun to visit the forbidden habitats again.
However, Ghulam Mohiuddin Mir, Block Officer Kupwara forests believes not all has been wrong for the bear because of militancy. He says that before 1989 the Himalayan brown bear was under attack from poachers who killed the animal for its fur, claw and internal organs.
“But during militancy, the authorities banned possession of arms in Kashmir. People would not dare to venture out into forests. So, I think there was less poaching in these two decades,” Mir said.
He adds that the increase in spotting of the bears close to human habitats now could also be due to loss of it’s habitat near the LOC. With the fencing, the bears have a habitat that’s divided into 2 parts with no chance of bears entering from that side of the border to Indian territories and vice versa. This has led the animals to spread their habitats in search of food.
Recently, the Himachal Pradesh government – another state the brown bear inhabits, announced a conservation programme with plans to open a breeding centre of the bear in the state.
With the return of the brown bears in Kashmir, hopefully, the surge of activities to protect it and its home will only increase.
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