Two orphans who love being driven out into the wild

March 18th, 2008 - 10:48 am ICT by admin  

By Sanjeeb Baruah
New Delhi, March 18 (IANS) Two orphaned Asiatic black bear cubs, Seppa and Seppi, raised in captivity, have walked back to freedom in the wilderness of Arunachal Pradesh as part of an experiment that has now made rehabilitation of these endangered animals possible in the country. Experts of the NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), who initiated this project in collaboration with the forest department, said the programme in the future will help authorities return rescued bear cubs back to the wild, instead of keeping them in zoos or lifetime care centres.

Rehabilitating these animals in lifetime care centres required a huge amount of money, which has been a serious concern for the state governments.

“The government spends a huge amount of money on these animals in captivity. Every year, at least five bear cubs are rescued by the department and had to be brought to the centres for their welfare,” said N.V.K. Ashraf of WTI, who led the project team.

The successful rehabilitation of Seppa and Seppi is expected to boost bear conservation and will be replicated elsewhere in the country.

According to an estimate prepared by S. Sathyakumar, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), there are just about 7,000 Asiatic black bears in the country.

Of the three other bear species in India, there are only 500-700 Himalayan brown bears left and fewer than 500 Sun bears. There are about 14,000 sloth bears, mostly in central and peninsular India.

All these bear species are listed in the Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, providing them the highest level of legal protection that can be given in India.

According to Ashraf, the programme can be used for rehabilitation of sloth bears in central India and other bear range states.

The experiment in Khari Pong in Pakke tiger reserve, some 150 km from state capital Itanagar, used human surrogate mothers to give training to the bears, so that they can protect themselves from predators and gather food in the wild.

“A temporary rehabilitation site was built in Khari Pong, which is a prime bear habitat, to acclimatise the cubs to the environment.

“Here, the bears are given complete freedom, although their movements are monitored through radio collars to study behaviour.

“Once they are accustomed to the area they gradually stop visiting the site. However, there are other factors that we also take into account,” Ashraf told IANS in an interview.

The Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC) set up by WTI about seven years ago in 862-sq km Pakke reserve, of which Khari Pong is a part, has been an important wildlife rehabilitation centre in the region.

Its other partners are the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the forest department. The rescued bears are brought to the centre at Pakke. Those that are young and can be rehabilitated are sent to Khari Pong while the older ones continue to live at the centre.

“Recently, five more bear cubs have been sent to Khari Pong for pre-release orientation,” said Ashraf.

Sathyakumar said: “Black bears are poached for their bile for use in traditional Chinese medicines.” Human-bear conflicts are also on the increase.

“The change in land-use pattern, especially for cultivation of crops that usually has high nutritional value, lure these animals to fruit orchards and maize fields. As a result, conflicts are on the rise that threaten the existence of bears.”

(Sanjeeb Baruah can be contacted at

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