The Himalyan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) some believe is the source of the legend of Yeti or the Abominable Snowman. It is perhaps its ability to walk upright that has given this subspecies of the more famous American brown bear this title. Sadly though experts fear the large scale destruction of its habitat is pushing this already rare bear to extinction from the state of Himachal Pradesh.
Himalayan brown bear is known as “Dzu-The” or Yeti in the high Himalayan altitudes where it resides. Thanks to mystery surrounding this bear not many even realise that brown bears are found in this part of the world as India is known more for its black bear species.
In the state of Himachal Pradesh brown bears are found in only Kugti and Tundah wildlife sanctuaries in tribal Bharmour and Pangi region of Chamba district. But now thanks to rapid habitat destruction for commercial timber needs, the homes of the bears are being destroyed.
Himalayan brown bears prefer to live around Rhododendron Campanulatum tree. The tree is locally known as buransh and is the state flower of Himachal Pradesh. In recent years though the commercial exploitation of the tree has increased because of high value of its fuel wood. This has lead to major chunks of the forested area vanishing making the brown bears lose their favourite canopy.
Dr Bipan C Rathore, from the Department of zoology in Government College, Chamba, who has been conducting an extensive study on the ecology of Himalayan brown bear for the past one decade says that increased human interference is disturbing the bears.
“This animal is very rare and pride of Himachal, but no initiative has been taken to save this animal and now the destruction of its ideal habitat is posing another threat,” said Dr Rathore.
He has suggested the state government to develop Tundah sanctuary as a brown bear reserve in the lines of the tiger reserve, but nothing has been done so far. Because of lack of funding he adds, nothing much is known about these bears and the habitat destruction is only pushing them further away.
“Human interference forces the animal to move to other places which disturbs its ecology affecting the population,” said Dr Rathore.
Little known Bear
The Himalayan Brown Bear, is often seen roaming on its own or a mother bear with its cubs. It is relatively smaller than the American Brown bear and has a paler coat. Found only in the higher levels north-western and central Himalayas, including Pakistan, India, Nepal, China and Bhutan, it is best seen in the Great Himalayan National Park (Himachal Pradesh) and the Deosai National Park, Pakistan. During summer, it follows the snow-line up to 5500m, descending to lower areas in autumn.
Dr. Rathore feels that the conversion of the Tundah sanctuary to a proper Bear reserve can help the animal as well as the researchers who are striving to study and protect it.
“As compared to Kugti, the Chadola “Dhar” in the Tundah wildlife sanctuary is safer for brown bear as people in the region worship the animal as deity,” said Dr Rathore.
“The concept already exists in western countries. Seeing such a rare animal in its natural habitat is always a unique experience and the government should take initiative as Himachal has diverse fauna particularly in Chamba region, where rare animals are found,” said Dr Rathore.
The population of the brown bear is around 20 in Kugti and less than 15 in Tundah. The animal is included in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Worldwide although the population of brown bears is large, in India brown bears exist in 23 protected areas in the northern states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Country-wide there are likely less than 1,000 individuals, and possibly even lesser as per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Due to habitat loss, killing by livestock herders, and continuous poaching for its fur, claws and internal organs for the medicine trade, the Himalayan Brown Bear suffers constant decline throughout its range.
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Image via cc/Flickr by Spencer Wright