Traditional Assamese New Year brings new opportunity for orphaned bears in India

Asiatic black bears are illegally persecuted for their gall bladder, skin and paws. Festive occasions for people are not always good times for wildlife in some parts of Assam, with miscreants breaking into forests to hunt wild animals. The past three popular festivals – Magh Bihu in January, New Years and Christmas, saw three Asiatic black bears admitted to our rehabilitation centre in Kokrajhar.  

However, during this Bihu (Assamese festival of harvest and New Year celebrated April 14-17) there is reason to cheer other than the festival itself, as these bear cubs will return to the wild in Manas National Park.

The first cub was found alone on December 24th last year, in a fringe village of Manas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After being spotted by locals on several occasions, the cub was captured for his own safety as well as local people, and admitted for rehabilitation. The second was found around New Year and the third a day before ‘Magh Bihu’ on January 13th under similar circumstances.

Also on IFAW.org: Spotlight India: Four elephants settle into their new home in Manas

Asiatic black bears are illegally persecuted for their gall bladder, skin and paws. Although, no evidence exists, the possibility cannot be ruled out that these cubs were orphaned, considering that young cubs this age are seen with their mothers.

The cubs are all around a year old and are currently being looked after by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) veterinarians Dr Panjit Basumatary and animal keeper Subiram Basumatary.

Every day, Subiram feeds them fruit, vegetables and boiled grains, ensures that they have sufficient water, facilitates their physical activities as part of the process to rehabilitate them into the wild. He cleans their enclosure every other day, and ensures that they are warm at night.

Four months under human care has not changed their wild nature; they are still aggressive, but shy of humans. This is good news for their rehabilitation, says our regional head Dr Bhaskar Choudhury, as the cubs will take more easily to the forests.

“These cubs were too old when admitted, to undergo our regular soft-release programme, involving hand-rearing followed by walks in the wild accompanied by animal keepers for gradual release. They will be kept in an enclosure in Manas for a fortnight or so, and then will be radio-collared and released,” Dr Choudhury explains.

The enclosure has already been fabricated and installed in the release site in Manas, selected on the basis of availability of food in their natural habitat and away from people. Soon after the Bihu festival, the cubs will be moved to the wild.

Our teams of veterinarians and animal keepers have rehabilitated 31 bear cubs in northeast India the last 10 years. All of these cubs are admitted under IFAW-WTI care when they are a few months old, and hand-reared over a period of four to six months before they are moved to the release site in the wild.

At the release site, the cubs are held in an enclosure at night for safety, and taken for accompanied daily walks to help them learn necessary skills to survive in the wild. Once the cubs grow independent of the accompanying animal keepers, they are radio-collared and set free. The bears are then monitored for a period of around six months.

Thank you all for helping us save these bears and return them back to the wild where they belong.

--NB

To learn more about IFAW efforts to rescue animals in crisis in India, visit our project page.

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