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Born to be wild: Hand-raised bear cubs set free

The Pioneer, New Delhi, 17th June, 2013

Hand-raised for months, four orphaned asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) were set free in the wild in Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh recently.

Officials of the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife trust of India (IFAW-WTI) said three of the released animals were also radio-collared to facilitate post-release monitoring.

IFAW-WTI Field Officer Soumya Dasgupta said that a total of 25 orphaned or displaced asiatic black bear cubs have already been released in the wild in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam by the organisation in collaboration with the respective State forest departments.

Narrating the background of the animals, Dasgupta said that three of the four cubs were handed over to the International Fund for Animal Welfare-Wildlife trust of India rehabilitation team by the Tripura forest department, while one came from Marginala in the East Kameng district of Arunchal Pradesh.

“While the three had been hand-raised in the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) located in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, the fourth cub was hand-raised at the Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation in Arunachal Pradesh and then shifted to the release site in Mehao Wildlife Sanctuary.

He said that the acclimatisation of the cubs started in October last year. “Over the past few months, the bears were becoming increasingly independent of our animal keepers who were looking after them. So after months of acclimatisation, we have now set them free,” Dasgupta said.

“Rehabilitating asiatic black bears is a praiseworthy initiative of IFAW-WTI. I'm pleased they’re helping in giving them a chance to survive in the wild," said Keinjum Rina, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the Mehao wildlife sanctuary located at Roing in the State.

“A behavioural study had also been done on all the cubs. It was found that after about four months the bears gradually became less dependent on the keepers, with one of them even having gone ‘missing’ for 11 days sustaining itself in the forest, before coming back to the enclosure area,” Dasgupta said.

“During acclimatisation the bear cubs learn to forage in the wild, retire on trees at night and avoid predators. Till the time they acquire these survival skills the caretakers act as their foster mothers, as part of the assisted soft-release method,” said Dr NVK Ashraf, Chief Veterinarian of the IFAW-WTI.

“The bears were examined during radio-collaring and were found healthy. One of the bear cubs has an impaired vision in one eye, but the team is confident of its survival,” he said.

Asiatic black bears are classified 'vulnerable' in the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Poaching for body parts and habitat degradation are among the major threats to these bears.