Current status of human-black bear conflict and the mitigation measures adopted around Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India

Master's Thesis 2013 42 Pages

Environmental Sciences




Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Study objectives

Chapter 2: Literature review
2.1 Human Wildlife Conflict
2.2 General Account on Asiatic black bear
(a)Habitat and Ecology
(b)Geographic distribution
2.3 Human-Black bear Conflict

Chapter 3: Study area
3.1 General view
3.2 Climate
3.3 Forest type
3.4 Soil
3.5 People and communities

Chapter 4: Methodology
(a) Method
(b) Sampling Method
(c) Material Requirements

Chapter 5: Results
5.1 Status of HBC (2011-2013)
(a) HBC based on crop raiding and crop damage
(b) HBC based on livestock killing
(c) HBC based on human death and injury
5.2 Assessment of current mitigation measures adopted
5.3 Assessment of the people’s perception towards adopting modern mitigation measures and conservation of Asiatic black bears

Chapter 6: Discussion
6.1 Status of HBC
6.2 Mitigation measures
6.3 Perception of local people towards conservation of Asiatic black bear

Chapter 7: Conclusion and Recommendations


Annexure 1: Datasheet

Annexure 2: Plates


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I would like to thank Mr. Sanjeeb Pradhan , Assistant Co-coordinator, WWF-India, Project SERVE, Darjeeling immensely for providing me with the opportunity to carry out my internship with their organization and guiding me throughout the project.

I would also like to thank Mr. Deependra Sunar, Project Officer, Mr. Pemba T. Bhutia, Field Officer, Mr. Rikchen Zimba, Field Assistant from WWF-India, Darjeeling for guiding me on the field visits and providing technical assistants.

Special thanks to Dr. Dipankar Ghose, Director Species & Landscapes Progaramme and Dr. Anupam Sarmah, Head Assam Landscape, WWF-India always being so helpful and cooperative.

Dr. P.K. Joshi and Dr Joachim Schmerbeck, for granting me the permission to take up the topic of my interest and encouraging me throughout the project.

I would like to thank the villagers, Ms. Rabina Gurung, and Mr. Alphonse Rai for their warm hospitality and guidance without whose help my internship would not have been incomplete.

Finally, my family, for allowing me to carry out my fieldwork at Darjeeling, and giving me a chance to visit the most serene picturesque landscape, I have ever seen and to meet such kind-hearted and loving hilly people.

Gargi Tariyal


Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) is one of the largest carnivores of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS). Black bear-human conflict is a major concern throughout the eastern Himalayas and particularly in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal state. A study was undertaken to assess the Black bear- Human conflicts using Questionnaire surveys within the fringe villages of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS), West Bengal during the period June-July 2013 by applying Snowball-sampling technique. The black bear-human conflicts recorded were in three forms: crop raiding, livestock predation, human attacks and sometimes even death of humans. Crop damage was observed to be the most common type of conflict as reported by more than 80% of the respondents. The extent of crop damage was intense in the month of June-September, mainly concentrated along forest boundary areas which can be related to the cropping pattern and pre-hibernation period of black bears. Crop damage and livestock damage was estimated for the areas surveyed. The traditional methods adopted by the villagers to scare or chase off bear included, shouting, drumming empty tin, Bamboo netted fencing , keeping guard dogs and handmade fire mashals (Pultho). However these methods are hardly effective because their applicability lies when the villagers know about the presence of bears in their fields, which is very rare as most of the bear attacks occur during late night hours, when the villagers are in sound sleep. Provision for immediate compensation for crop damage and livestock insurance schemes was suggested by the villagers to mitigate HBC. The willingness of the villagers to adapt to measures to mitigate HBC was found to be directly related to the cooperation provided by the forest officials and NGO ’ s.

Keywords: West Bengal, Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, Asiatic black bear, Conflict, Crop raiding, Mitigation measures.

Chapter 1. Introduction

1.1 Background

Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) is one of the four bear species found in India. It has been recorded from 18 countries throughout southern and eastern Asia (Garshelis and Steinmetz 2008). The habitat of this carnivore extends from conifer, temperate broadleaf, subtropical and tropical forests. Asiatic black bear’s altitudinal range may extend up to 4300m and rarely may they venture into alpine meadows, beyond the tree line. Individual bears, however are known to change their habitats and altitude seasonally (Izumiyama and Shiraishi 2004; Yiqing and Xiaomin 1998; Sathyakumar 1998; Hazumi 1998; Garshelis and Steinmetz 2008). In India, it is found in Jammu and Kashmir (except Ladakh), Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and other north-eastern states and in the foothills and hills of West Bengal (Sathyakumar 1998). Out of all the protected areas of India, Asiatic black bear has been recorded from 83 protected areas in India and the Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary (Darjeeling District, West Bengal) is one of them. However, information on their status from the sanctuary is patchy (Ghose et al. 2012). Further less information is available on ecology of Asiatic black bear from this sanctuary.

Over the years different range countries have proposed tentative estimates on population and density for Asiatic black bears. For India, the tentative population estimate for the species is 7000-9000 individuals (Sathyakumar 2006; Garshelis and Steinmetz 2008). However, Asiatic black bears face considerable stress in the wild from constant loss of habitat and also from regular poaching to fulfill the demand for its body parts for use in traditional medicinal practices (Mills and Servheen 1994; Yiqing and Xiaomin 1998; Sathyakumar 1998; Shepherd 2006). Considering this, it may be assumed that the population and density proposed for different countries need a proper review (Garshelis and Steinmetz 2008). But in spite of this constraint, it is evident that global population of Asiatic black bears is showing signs of decline over the years and this has led IUCN to include this species under the globally vulnerable species category (Garshelis and Steinmetz 2008).

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Photo credit: Deependra Sunar

In India, Asiatic black bear is protected under the Schedule I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 (amended in 2006) (Ghose et al 2012). Though this species is highly threatened globally and also in India, very few studies on its population status and threats have been undertaken and they are mostly restricted to western Himalayas (Sathyakumar 1999, 2001, 2006; Sathyakumar and Vishwanath 2003; Sathyakumar and Choudhury 2008). Information on the Asiatic black bears for West Bengal Forest Department indicates a presence of about 20 Asiatic black bears (Anon. 2008).

Wildlife and humans have existed in tranquility with each other since time immemorial, but intermittent negative human wildlife conflicts are not uncommon either. The frequency of such negative interactions has multiplied in recent times. This, to a great extent, is related to increased levels of human activities in wildlife areas ( Chauhan 2003; Graham et al. 2005; Bulte and Rondeau 2005; Charoo et al. 2009). The situation is almost same for Asiatic black bears.

Asiatic black bears have a wide home range that varies between 3 km² to 158 km² (Charoo et al. 2009; Sharma et al. 2010; Hwang et al. 2010; Dr. S. Sathyakumar, 2008), and occasionally they wander into human territory. As a result black bear end up competing with human beings, directly or indirectly, for food and other living resources within its limited home range in a given locality. This has been one of the major reasons behind the conflicts associated with black bears throughout its home range. Depredation of crops, killing of livestock and in extreme cases fatal attacks on humans are the main conflict issues related to this species (Chauhan 2003; Choudhury et al. 2008; Sathyakumar and Choudhury 2008; Charoo et al. 2009).

India being one of the twelve-mega biodiversity countries of the world has two global ecological hotspots and The Himalayan region is one of the global ecological hotspot. Thus by many measures of diversity this region stands out as a globally important one. Asiatic black bear is one of the key mammals of the Himalayan forests and shares its home with a great diversity of other species, both plants and animals. Situation at Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary is no exception from the general trend. Although a floral and faunal inventory for the sanctuary exists with West Bengal Forest Department, no systematic surveys have been conducted on the presence of different mammalian species that share the habitat with the Asiatic black bear (Ghose et al.).

1.2 Study objectives

Given the background (1.1), this present study aims to explain the status of Human-black black bear conflict in the past two years (2011-2013) in the fringe villages of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary with the help of a questionnaire-based survey. Additionally this study analyses the local mitigation techniques as well as perception of the villagers towards mitigating Human-black bear conflicts. The study was conducted with the following objectives:-

1. To know the status of Human-black bear conflict in the past two years (2011-2013) in the fringe villages of Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, Darjeeling, West Bengal.
2. To find out the current mitigation measures being adopted.
3. To know the willingness of the villagers towards adopting modern mitigation measures and their attitude towards conservation of Asiatic black bears.

Chapter 2. Literature Review

2.1 Human-wildlife conflict

Human-wildlife conflict is defined as ‘Any interaction between humans and wildlife that results in negative impacts on human social, economic or cultural life for the conservation of wildlife populations, or on the environment (HWC manual, WWF 2005). Diminishing of natural and wildlife resources has been related to human actions through excess exploitation, habitat destruction, pollution and introduction of exotic species.

Expansion of livestock production around the world has also led to overgrazing, land degradation, fragmentation, loss of wildlife habitat, and deforestation of natural land (Reid, Walter et al 2005). As the human population grows, there is an increasing demand for food, fresh water, energy, raw materials, and access to arable land (Distefano & Elisa 2005). Conflict situations can arise anywhere, but they are maximized at the periphery of protected areas, where wildlife enjoys protection and land is often productive, leading to a wealth of immense agriculture.

There are mainly two forms which lead to conflict between wild animals and humans:

(i) Damage to agricultural crops by wild animals and direct competition for forage between domestic livestock and wild animals.
(ii) Direct threat to human life, livestock and destruction of property by wild animals.

Human - wildlife conflict comes in the way of conservation program as it affects the support of local communities (Lahm 1996; Thou less 1994; Williams et al. 2001) and endanger already threatened wildlife species, like tigers, elephants, leopards, bears, gorillas and wolves, hindering the pursuit of development and poverty alleviation goals for impoverished people (HWCC brochure 907).

2.2 General Account on Asiatic black bear

The Asiatic black bear has been reported to be continuously distributed through southern and eastern Asia from westward through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Baluchistan Province of Iran; east to Indo-China through much of China, Korea, and Japan, and an isolated population in Taiwan (Servheen 1990, Sathyakumar 2001). Schaller (1977) reported a wide distribution for black bear from Russia and Korea to Indo-China and from the forests of the Himalayas below an altitude of 3,750m west as far as Afghanistan and Iran. The Himalayan region and the hills of northeast India cover ca. 591,800 km2 (18% of India) and probably holds one of the largest black bear habitat range in India would support 5,400 to 6,750 bears (Sathyakumar 2001, Sathyakumar & Choudhury, 2008).

(a)Habitat and Ecology

Asiatic black bears occupy a variety of forested habitats, both broad-leaved and coniferous, from near sea level to an elevation of 4,300 m (in northeastern India, A. Choudhury, Rhino Foundation for Nature pers. comm.). They also infrequently use open alpine meadows. Individual bears move to different habitats and elevations seasonally (Izumiyama and Shiraishi 2004), tracking changes in food abundance. Foods include succulent vegetation (shoots, forbs and leaves) in spring, turning to insects and a variety of tree and shrub-borne fruits in summer, and finally nuts in autumn (Bromlei 1965, Reid et al. 1991, Huygens et al. 2003). In some places the diet contains a sizeable portion of meat from mammalian ungulates (which they either kill or scavenge, Hwang et al. 2002)

(b)Geographic Description

i. Range Description: Fossil remains of the Asiatic black bear have been found as far west as Germany and France, but in historic times the species has been limited to Asia. This species occupies a narrow band from southeastern Iran (Gutleb and Ziaie, 1999) eastward through Afghanistan and Pakistan, across the foothills of the Himalayas, to Myanmar. It occupies all countries in mainland Southeast Asia except Malaysia. It has a patchy distribution in southern China, and is absent in much of east-central China. Another population cluster exists in northeastern China, the southern Russian Far East, and into North Korea. A small remnant population exists in South Korea. The species now occurs very patchily through much of its former range, especially in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, mainland southeast Asia and China. Its distribution in parts of China and Myanmar remains very poorly known (Garshelis et al. 2008). .

The distribution of the Asiatic black bear roughly coincides with forest distribution in southern and eastern Asia (FAO 2006), except that in central and southern India this species is replaced by the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), in southern Thailand and into Malaysia it is replaced by the sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) and north and west of the Russian Far East it is replaced by the brown bear (Ursus arctos). However, the Asiatic black bear overlaps the ranges of each of these species, especially the sun bear in a large portion of Southeast Asia (Garshelis et al. 2008).

ii. Native Countries: Afghanistan; Bangladesh; Bhutan; Cambodia; China; India; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Japan; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Lao People's Democratic Republic; Myanmar; Nepal; Pakistan; Russian Federation; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Viet Nam (Garshelis et al. 2008).

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Figure1: Range Map of Asiatic Black bear (The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2013)

2.3 Human-Black bear conflict

Asiatic Black bear (Ursus thibetanus) Human conflicts is not a local, small phenomenon; but a problem that extends to a diverse range of geographic and human demographic contexts. The ascending number of black bear-human conflict cases is due to competition for resources, fear as a threat to local people, and illegal trade of different body parts of black bear. Although humans and carnivores have co-existed for a long time but the Frequency of conflicts have increased in recent decades as a result of increased human activities in wildlife areas or on natural habitats (Graham et al. 2005, Bulte & Rondeau 2005).

People generally have the solution of killing the problematic animal to get rid of these unusual conflicts. Asiatic black bears have a wide home range that varies between 3 km² to 158 km² (Charoo et al. 2009; Sharma et al. 2010; Huang et al. 2010; Dr. S. Sathyakumar, 2008). In absence of areas, they typically compete directly with people for resources such as space, food, security and cover. Almost all bear species harm human life and property as they kill or injure livestock, damage agricultural crops, and directly attack people. Therefore, if legally protected species damage livestock, property or agricultural fields, people think them as a disadvantage against these species, and since the species is legally protected and killing is punishable, they prefer illegal ways of dealing with this problem.

One of the most serious limiting factors for black bear conservation in India is the response of people to Black bear- human conflicts. Such conflicts have existed since long back but the intensity of these cases has increased through the recent years (Chauhan, 2003). Reports to the Forest and Wildlife Departments of black bear attacking humans and killing livestock are common, largely in the north western and western Himalayan region. For example, in Uttarakhand, black bears accounted for 28.5% of 540 attacks on humans by large carnivores between 1991 and 2001. Of these attacks, 9% resulted in a human fatality (Chauhan 2004). In the Great Himalayan National Park, 350 of 1,348 (26%) incidents of livestock predation during 1989-98 were by black or brown bears (Chauhan 2003). In Kashmir, Black bear-human conflicts have increased in the recent past (Choudhury et al. 2008).

Sathyakumar and Choudhury (2008) have specified the possible causes for the increased incidences in the reporting of livestock depredation and attacks on humans by black bears, as follows:

(1) Shrinking habitat due to extension of agricultural lands, other Human encroachment and habitat degradation which have leaded to increased use of agricultural lands by bears.
(2) Increasing human and livestock population in and around PAs and forested areas, and increased dependence on forests by humans leading to increased frequency of bear-human encounters.
(3) Unsupervised livestock grazing.
(4) Increased awareness among local people regarding compensation paid by the government for damage caused by wildlife, leading to an increase in the proportion of incidents reported.

As a result of the above, any information of an increase in black bear population in an area in the recent past, is very unlikely with the exception of a very few undisturbed areas.



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Title: Current status of human-black bear conflict and the mitigation measures adopted around Senchal Wildlife Sanctuary, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India