IFAW-WTI: Three hand-raised bears return to the wild in Assam, India
Manas National Park (Assam), May 29, 2009: Three orphaned Asiatic black bears, hand-raised by the IFAW-WTI (International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India), have been returned to the wild in Manas National Park, Assam, following a sustained period of on-site acclimatisation.
“Unlike in the initial stages of their rehabilitation, the bears haven’t returned to the acclimatisation camp. We have been tracking them with the help of radio-collars fitted during the last phase of their rehabilitation,” said Dr Bhaskar Choudhury, IFAW-WTI veterinarian in-charge of the project.
The bears were rescued by the Assam Forest Department in three different incidents from local people who had held them captive around March 2008. They were handed over to the lower Assam unit of IFAW-WTI Mobile Veterinary Services (MVS) for hand-raising and eventual rehabilitation.
Barely few months old when confiscated, the bear cubs were hand-raised at the field station of the MVS unit at Kokrajhar. In mid 2008, the bears were relocated to the release site in Doimari range, Manas NP, near the Indo-Bhutan border, for a soft-release programme, specifically termed ‘assisted release’.
During their ‘assisted release’, the bears were taken for daily walks in the forest, accompanied by a keeper. The bears instinctively learned to identify natural food and honed other skills necessary for their survival in the wild, during these walks. At night, they remained at the camp where they were provided with concentrate feed to supplement their dietary requirements.
Gradually, the bears became confident, and independent of the keeper who accompanied them for walks. The supplementary food amount was also gradually reduced to encourage natural food intake.
About a month ago, when the bears appeared hesitant to return to the camp for the nights, they were radio-collared.
“The bears, following natural instincts, began sleeping outdoors and their dependence on their keeper was approaching zero. Although concentrate feed was made available, they showed greater inclination towards a natural diet, which was good news. We then radio-collared them anticipating their freedom,” said Dr Choudhury.
The bears are currently being radio-tracked and have been sighted on a few occasions.
“They are mostly roaming near the release site on the Bhutanese side. We are in contact with the authorities in Bhutan to design a cooperative plan to keep track of these bears,” Dr Choudhury added.
This is the third batch of this threatened species to have been hand-raised and successfully released into the wild in northeast India as part of IFAW-WTI’s Asiatic black bear Rehabilitation Project.
Although a lengthy process, the ‘assisted release’ method has proved quite effective in rehabilitating orphaned bears. The first two batches comprising two and five bears were similarly rehabilitated by the Forest Department and IFAW-WTI in Pakke Tiger Reserve, Arunachal Pradesh in 2006 and 2008 respectively.
This post was filed from India by Sheren Shrestha. For more information, please visit IFAW.org