Updated: First Ever Release of A Radio-Collared Sloth Bear in Uttar Pradesh
By Jordan Schaul | National Geographic | July 6, 2013
Under the leadership of the Hon’ble Chief Minister Mr. Akhilesh Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) Forest Department and the conservation and welfare NGO, Wildlife SOS, headquartered in New Delhi successfully translocated a sloth bear. The wild bear was relocated from one area of UP to a protected eco-sensitive zone in a transboundary region of UP.
The relocation and release effort was a part of a momentous inaugural effort to study human-bear conflict and more generally human-wildlife conflict in UP.
The healthy, robust, and well-conditioned male sloth bear, estimated to be about four years old, was released into the Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary, located at the Indo-Nepal border of Uttar Pradesh.
The bear was temporarily housed at the Agra Bear Rescue Facility after being removed from an area near Shikohabad in Western UP. The ABRF is the largest sloth bear-holding facility in the world and the largest captive bear facility of any kind for any bear species.
As soon as the bear was declared fit for release, Wildlife SOS veterinary officers with the ABRF reintroduced the animal into the Suhelwa, which was initially designated as a tiger reserve.
Wildlife SOS (WSOS), rescued the wild sloth bear approximately two months ago in response to a sloth bear sighting reported to U.P. Forest Department personnel and in response to public concern. According to initial reports, the sighting of the wild bear was immediately reported to the authorities.
Wildlife SOS veterinarian Dr. Ilyaraja and his rescue team tranquilized the wild bear in a five-hour-long rescue operation. They removed the animal from a 30 foot-long underground culvert where it had taken refuge, presumably to avoid people.
The bear was captured before any conflict could ensue.
The Uttar Pradesh Forest department issued necessary permissions to Wildlife SOS to radio collar the bear and release it in suitable natural habitat. The wild bear was released two days ago following a 15-hour drive from Agra to the Suhelwa wildlife sanctuary, which is 120 km long and 5 to 9 km across in width.
Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttar Pradesh Dr. Rupak De, IFS said, “this is the first time a sloth bear has been released successfully in the wild with a radio collar. The data from tracking the movements of the bear will help the Forest Department understand bear behavior and mitigate future conflict between people and wild bears. We are happy to be collaborating with Wildlife SOS to carry out this important study on human-wildlife conflict.”
Wildlife SOS CEO and Co-Founder Kartick Satyanarayan said, “This successful release was possible thanks to the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department under the able leadership and visionary approach of the Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Akhilesh Yadav. Our research team is currently monitoring the bear’s movements and will also document habitat use and ranging patterns of the bear.”
In a more recent interview since the bear was released, Mr. Satyanarayan said, “the fact that the wild bear is not habituated to human presence and is avoiding villages and other human settlements is a very positive sign. We also hope to work on the long-term conservation of wildlife and habitat protection in Suhelwa.”
As more sloth bears are radio-collared and monitored in the future, the resultant data gathered will contribute to understanding and mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, which is on the rise in many parts of India.
The Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary is an important wildlife preserve for large carnivores in India and is rich in biodiversity. This unprecedented release of a wild sloth bear represents the first opportunity to study this little-known species in regard to human-wildlife conflict.
India is home to four species of bears, but only the sloth bear is endemic to South Asia. The mainland subspecies, Melursus ursinus ursinus, occurs on the Subcontinent.
As few as 5000 to 7000 sloth bears are estimated to live in fragmented populations across South Asia. Although India is considered a stronghold for the mainland and nominate subspecies of Melursus ursinus, sloth bears even in protected areas like the Suhelwa are not ever far from heavily populated human-dominated landscapes.
An endemic and hyper-omnivorous subspecies, Melursus ursinus inornatus also exists in Sri Lanka.
According to Dr. Brij Kishor Gupta of Central Zoo Authority, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, “this radio-collaring of [conflict] wild bears by the U.P. Forest Department and Wildlife SOS is a valuable scientific addition for both in situ and ex situ management of sloth bears.”
This sloth bear conservation effort is supported in part by San Diego Zoo Global, International Animal Rescue, HSI, Hauser Bears, Free The Bears Fund, and Alertis.
Watch the bear release video on http://www.facebook.com/wildlifesosindia
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MEET THE AUTHOR
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine, and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife and conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska (As Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (As executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition, he was an ex officio member of the council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management.