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Four bear cubs set free in the wild

The Assam Tribune, Guwahati, 15th June, 2013

Four Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus) were set free in the wild in Mehao wildlife sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh, following months-long hand-raising and rehabilitation efforts by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)-Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

Three of the bears were radio-collared to facilitate post-release monitoring.

A total of 25 orphaned or displaced Asiatic black bear cubs had earlier been released in the wild in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam by IFAW-WTI in collaboration with the respective State Forest departments.

Keinjum Rina, DFO of the Mehao wildlife sanctuary, Roing, commended the efforts of IFAW-WTI, saying, “Rehabilitating Asiatic black bears is a praiseworthy initiative of IFAW-WTI. I am pleased they are helping in giving them a chance to survive in the wild.”

Three of the four cubs were handed over to the IFAW-WTI rehab team by the Tripura Forest department, while one came from Marginala in East Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. While the latter had been hand-raised in the Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation, Arunachal Pradesh, the former three had been hand-raised in the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation in Kaziranga and then shifted to the release site in Mehao wildlife sanctuary on October 31, 2012, to begin the in-situ acclimatisation process.

“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,” said Soumya Dasgupta, IFAW-WTI Field Officer.

A behavioural study was done for all the cubs. 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.

“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, 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.

Asiatic black bears are 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.