Battling the elements to collar orphaned bears in India

IFAW-WTI veterinarian Dr. Abhijit Bhawal places a radio collar on a sedated Asiatic black bear in India. © IFAW-WTI. S.BarbaruahUsually radio-collaring Asiatic black bears involves travelling to the forest site in a vehicle and a few hours journey on foot in the forest, tranquilising and radio collaring them. It’s usually simple. But this time it wasn’t so easy.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare and our local partner Wildlife Trust of India team set out on our mission to collar two orphaned Asiatic black bear cubs that were undergoing what we call in-situ acclimatization in the forest of Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary in the Northeast Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.

At first we witnessed the after effects of a hail storm in a small town named Dholla. Our journey was slow and difficult because debris from the storm was scattered all along the road. Hundreds of trees were uprooted, houses were destroyed and electric poles fell on the highway, an early start to the monsoon season.

The incoming storm led us to postpone our plans and halt for a night in Dholla. While many of us were frustrated by the delay, the decision turned out to be a very wise one because we would have been stuck in the middle of its fury with no shelter in sight.

The next morning we started early and headed towards our destination in Mehao. The team faced many obstacles while crossing the swollen Deopani river on foot. Our vet Dr. Abhijit Bhawal was swept away by a rapid water current after slipping on some rocks but was thankfully rescued by two animal keepers quickly after.

The video shows how the veterinarians radio collared the two bears. Hats off to the entire team for a safe and nicely done job despite the odds.

Now about one year old, the bears will be remotely monitored as long as the collars stay on them that should give us good data for a number of months. This valuable information ultimately lets us know if the bears are surviving and thriving on their own and provides further insight into the natural behaviour of these endangered animals.

Three cubs, including the two radio-collared last week, were hand-raised at the IFAW Wildlife Rescue Center in Kaziranga and relocated to Mehao WLS for in-situ acclimatization. This provided them with about five months of care and protection in a pre-release enclosure. All along, they were taken for daily walks in the wilderness by animal keepers to help them develop the skills they need to survive in the wild.

Currently four other rescued bears are being walked in Pepsu in the neighbouring state of Assam. These bears are also scheduled to get collared soon.

Asiatic black bears are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in IUCN’s 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 almost 10 years ago to provide Asiatic black bear cubs--displaced due to poaching or otherwise--an opportunity to go back to the wild.

-- SB

Since its inception, the Center has been able to hand raise and successfully release 17 bears. Help us save many more through a donation.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy