Brown bear diet shocker: J&K wildlife department to prosecute people for dumping garbage near forests

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SRINAGAR:  Alarmed by the unnatural dietary habits of endangered brown bears, the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Department has decided to penalize the people and organizations involved in dumping garbage in forests and tourist places.

A new study has revealed that 75 percent of brown bears’ diet in Kashmir include plastics, chocolates, and biryani. Wildlife SOS, India-based wildlife conservation charity, carried out an extensive survey on Himalayan brown bear distribution and feeding patterns.

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Regional Wildlife Warden Rashid Naqash told The Kashmir Monitor that the department recognizes the magnitude of the problem and has facilitated Wildlife SOS’ study.

“The recommendations have helped in identifying all the stakeholders. The recommendations put forth have helped in identifying the stakeholders. The advisors recommended by the Wildlife SOS need to be adhered to and implemented so that this unnatural behavior adopted by the brown bears is scientifically managed. We are in the process of installing hoardings at these sites. We impose penalties for violations, damaging and altering habitats under the wildlife act,” he said.

Chief Wildlife Warden Suresh Kumar Gupta said the study will help determine people’s perceptions and belief in conservation through coexistence. “Set of recommendations will be helpful to the managers and all other stakeholders in the area,”  he said.

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Titled `Himalayan Brown Bear Ecological and Human-Bear Conflict Investigation In Kashmir’, the study revealed shocking facts.

 The study found more than 75% of food items in a brown bear’s diet were scavenged from the garbage. This included excreted plastic carry bags, milk powder, chocolate wrappers, and biryani. The study also revealed that Himalayan brown bears are raiding garbage dumps for food.

 On studying 408 scat samples of brown bears, the team found out 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 75% higher than wild plant matter, crop raids, and hunted sheep.

 “The findings from scat analysis were strengthened by data gathered from camera traps — 62% of which have captured bone-chilling sequences of brown bears foraging for food at garbage dumps. Such items from waste can be harmful to the gastric intestinal structure of the brown bears leading to severe ailments and shortening their life span. Such behavior can also be passed from mother to infant, leading to complete loss in natural foraging traits,” said Swaminathan S, Wildlife SOS Senior Biologist.

The Himalayan brown bear population in Kashmir has been a mystery for wildlife conservationists and researchers due to its restricted distribution in the alpine meadows of the Himalayas. Scant information exists about the Himalayan brown bear and almost no research exists on these bears in the Kashmir region.

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.  They are listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List. 

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