AGRA: Threatened by habitat destruction due to various anthropogenic pressures such as habitat encroachment, tourism and grazing pressure, the Himalayan brown bear population has been steadily declining in the past century with only an estimated 500-750 bears left in India.
Alarmingly, according to a six-month-long survey carried out by a conservation non-profit group, Wildlife SOS, and authorised by the Jammu and Kashmir wildlife protection department, on the animal’s distribution and feeding patterns, the endangered Himalayan brown bears scavenged from garbage 75% of their food and are rapidly becoming accustomed to it.

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Bear scats have excreted plastic, glass
The garbage includes plastic carry bags, milk powder, chocolate wrappers and even some leftover biryani. Such items from waste are harmful to the gastric intestinal structure of the brown bear, leading to severe ailments and shortening their life span, the study report said, adding that the harmful effects can also be passed from mother to infant, leading to complete loss in natural foraging traits.

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After studying 408 scat samples of brown bears, the team of researchers found that 86 scats have excreted plastic carry bags, milk powder and chocolate covers. Some scats even had remnants of glass. The frequency of occurrence of garbage was much higher than wild plant matter, crop raids and hunted sheep, the study added.
Senior biologist Swaminathan S, who was associated with the research, said, “The findings from scat analysis were strengthened by data gathered from camera traps. Out of the 20,627 camera trap footage, 9,131 footage captured bone-chilling sequences of brown bears foraging for food at garbage dumps. Their natural diet of fresh plants, insects and small mammals has been replaced by improperly disposed highcalorie foods. This is an alarming situation for Kashmir’s largest mammal on the verge of extinction.”
Incidentally, Himalayan brown bear is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List. Aaliya Mir, project manager at Wildlife SOS, added, “Due to remote terrains they occupied, Himalayan brown bear was a rare sight for the past two decades. Recently, however, brown bears have started venturing to lower altitudes in search of food.”
Kartick Satyanarayan, CEO of the non-profit, said, “On basis of the research findings, Wildlife SOS has submitted a list of recommendations to the J&K development authority and the tourism board, and other stakeholders. Some significant recommendations included creating proper waste disposal management, locating garbage dumps far away from human habitation, securing the perimeter of garbage sites with chain link mesh and even bear-proofing garbage bins.”
Bears were not the only animals being lured by garbage. The research team also found evidence of other species like marmots and the elusive Asian ibex munching on trash. Suresh Kumar Gupta, chief wildlife warden, J&K, said, “The study, documented in the form of a report, will be helpful in determining people’s perceptions and believing in conservation through coexistence.”

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