IFAW India: Two Asiatic Black Bears Radio Collared and Returned to the Wild
This post was filed by International Fund for Animal Welfare's Sashanka Barbaruah, reporting from the field in Northeast India.
A strong urge to explore the Pakke Tiger Reserve was lingering since the last couple of years. The opportunity to walk through the forest of Pakke materialized when I heard that IFAW, local partners in India - Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the Forest Department of Arunachal Pradesh were collaborating to place radio collars and release two more bears to the wild.
The two orphan cubs rehabilitated at the IFAW Bear Rescue Center in Arunachal Pradesh were radio-collared on the 9th of June. During their rehabilitation, the bears were accompanied by trained animal keepers and taken for daily walks in the wilderness to help them develop survival skills.
Our journey to the Doigurung release site was an arduous one which had begun with a walk through a forest road. A team of nine people comprising of IFAW and Forest Department staff walked through an undulating route littered with long grass and shrubs.
We went into the forest, spotting birds, insects, and various kinds of trees. The motif of the forest is vibrant and gorgeous. The tiny multi-hued insects on the forest floor, the wild mushrooms celebrating their existence in the world and the trees soaring up into the sky. I noticed every little detail of the forest which made the walk interesting, even though it was tiresome.
I did not realize that we had walked for almost 5 hours and we reached Khari (the first forest stopover). We decided to halt at Khari for the day as we were very tired from walking a total of 12 kms. The down pouring of rain made walking difficult (the roads were slippery). Leaches also make life even more difficult in Pakke. I found a hand full of them crawling up my leg upon reaching the forest camp.
The next day we started early in the morning and headed for Doigurung, (21 kms away from the Khari camp) our final destination where we were supposed to collar the bears. This journey was even tougher as the roads were too steep and slippery.
We walked through the forest for 6 hours. On the way we waited at three forest camps where we stopped to rest for a while and had some tea. We reached Doigurung that afternoon.
It’s a picturesque green terrain. The Doigurung camp is located near a river. Upon reaching the camp we quickly unloaded our luggage and headed for the bear enclosure which is located around 2 kms upstream.
IFAW vet Dr. Bhaskar and Soumya Dasgupta, a biologist, had a thorough inspection of the place and made the plan of the collaring. As it was raining and there was hardly any sunlight, it was decided that we would do it the next day so we returned to the Doigurung camp to rest.
Anticipating the next day would be good, I remained quiet and watched the sky as the minutes ticked away. Although the day was rainy, the sky gradually changed its colours at night and I had enjoyed the most abundant and beautiful stars I'd seen in years. I was so happy to see the stars and hoped that the next day would be a clear sunny day. With this hope we went off to sleep.
Collaring morning, my alarm was set for 4 am, but I woke up suddenly at around 3.40am, too full of the adrenaline of anticipation of a good day of photo-documentation of the collaring and release.
Upon getting up, I’d discovered that it was raining and the sky was dark. We got ready with a heavy heart.
After having tea, we straightway headed to the bear enclosure. As we approached the enclosure, our presence had frightened the bears as they suddenly smelled the unfamiliar scent of lots of humans. They started roaring and shaking the enclosure.
One of the keepers climbed the platform. The bears developed some confidence after seeing him and they became quiet. That was the right time to tranquilize.
Dr. Bhaskar assisted by Somya quickly set up their equipments. Dr. Bhaskar took the shots with the blow dart to tranquilize the cubs. The keepers carried the cubs out of the enclosure that stands atop a 12 feet high platform.
The vets quickly fitted the collar mounted with a radio transmitter to the cubs one by one. The two bears are about one year old and they seemed quite healthy. All other necessary health checkups were done within a short time and the cubs were now ready to be released! Within no time the cubs recovered from sedation. They looked quite active after some time and generally unaware of the device now hanging from their necks. All involved were very happy to successfully accomplish this critical mission.
The bears are now being monitored with the use of radio telemetry. Even though the bears were released, they are still coming back to the forest camp, ever now and again, slowly acclimatizing and gaining full independence but hesitant, as it’s normal. The bears will gradually reduce their visit to the forest camp and in due time become once again wild.
Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) are listed in Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and classified as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Poaching for body parts predominantly bile, and habitat degradation are among the major threats to these bears. The IFAW Bear Rescue Center was established in 2002 to provide Asiatic black bear cubs – displaced due to poaching or otherwise – an opportunity to return them to the wild.
To learn more about this and other projects around the world, visit www.ifaw.org today.