By Aniruddha Dhamorikar
Featuring research supported by the DeFries-Bajpai Foundation
It is hard to tell if it is the same river you cross after every hill you descend. The jungle is new at every turn, and I might as well have crossed one-too-many. We were in the hills of Seoni, close to the Pench Tiger Reserve, the land Kipling adopted in The Jungle Book (1894-95), the land of many hills and rivers, and stories. One late afternoon, I halted at a large rock jutting out from a dry river, looking at tilting ribbons of light cast rippling shadows on the dusty bedrock. It was too early in the year for the rivers to turn into puddles.
At another time, along one such river, one late afternoon, the ‘Jungle People’ were gathering by the Peace Rock. The rains had failed, rivers shrunk, and trees and vines shrivelled and withered. “If I were alone,” mumbled Baloo, “I would change my hunting-grounds now, before the others began to think.” As a kid, Kipling’s narration of how fear came always made my hair stand on end. “And yet – hunting among strangers ends in fighting; and they might hurt the Man-cub. We must wait and see how the Mohwa blooms,” Baloo added.
Earlier than Kipling, James Forsyth in The Highlands of Central India (1872) writes that sloth bears “appear to lose their natural apprehensions of danger in some degree during the Mohwa season.”
Dunbar Brander in Wild Animals in Central India (1927) speaks of them as being “the most intelligent animal in the jungle, the primates excepted,” adding that “The time of plenty is when the fleshy calyx of the Mohwa tree is continually dropping, and it is an extraordinary sight to see the bears competing with each other so as to be first on the spot.”
Thus far, in my journeys through the Kanha-Pench landscape, sloth bears have always eluded me. A decade ago, in another landscape, on another bend on the hill, I had come face-to-face with an indolent bear loitering down a shallow dell. Needless to say, I was off in the opposite direction. To each his own fear, Baloo would have said. Forsyth describes sloth bears as “generally very harmless until attacked” adding darkly that “sometimes, however, a bear will attack savagely without provocation – generally, when they are come upon suddenly, and their road of escape is cut off”. Brander opined that, “a she-bear with cubs is a most dangerous animal to disturb” and “it is a jungle axiom that one never can say what a bear will do”.
Be that as it may, humans and sloth bears have coexisted more-or-less effortlessly for centuries.
Read more in the original article, published as a cover story on the February 2018 edition of Sanctuary Asia, where Aniruddha Dhamorikar writes of the changing landscape for sloth bears in their Central Indian strongholds and offers glimpses of solutions to human-bear conflicts that could determine the future of the species.
PhD student, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
With fertile soil and agreeable climate, this ecosystem provides favorable conditions for
agriculture and human settlement. Clearing of land for agriculture has resulted in extensive
deforestation of this ecosystem over years. Human activities are considered the largest threat to this ecosystem. Panna and Sariska, where tigers recently went extinct and were re-introduced, are both tropical dry forests. Poaching was established as the main reason behind the extinctions.
PhD student, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India
Bilaspur is an agriculture dominated district in the north western part of the state of Chhattisgarh. It is known for the aromatic Dubraj variety of rice. Nearly 65% of the land area of Bilaspur is under agriculture. What remains is covered by villages and towns, industries and fragments of forests. The forest fragments are mainly found on hillocks and around boulders. Inspite of the patchy distribution of forests, sloth bears thrive in this landscape.
Examining fecal samples (scat) is a common technique used in research to understand feeding habits of wild animals. Remains of food found in the scat are identified using reference collections of potential food samples. For example, the feces of animals that eat fruits often contain seeds of the fruits. A reference collection of seeds is used in that case to identify what fruits the animal has eaten. For carnivores, the hair and bones in the diet are used to identify the prey species.
By Natasha Rajpurohit
Ever wondered what it is like to experience wilderness in its truest sense? Read this Last Wilderness blog post by Natasha Rajpurohit who volunteered for the Nature Education Programme at Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR), Madhya Pradesh. AT KTR, Natasha interacted with school students from ten local villages, and witnessed the level of dedication of the management at KTR and Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF) towards wildlife conservation and their vision to involve the next generation in outreach programs in order to keep the future of wildlife conservation secure. NCCI member Vidya Venkatesh gave an orientation to the volunteers explaining their roles in the program.
By Jennie Miller, John Linnell, Vidya Athreya and Subharanjan Sen
This article is an outcome of discussions at the Central Indian Landscape Symposium (CILS) in December 2016 during the session on Coexistence Between People and Wildlife.
Wildlife managers and other conservation practitioners represent the wildlife they manage or research. When wildlife damages people’s property or affects the lives of family and friends, these authorities are often required to step beyond their areas of expertise and training to address the needs of people. Managing people well—especially in sensitive situations when they have faced a serious personal loss to wildlife—is critical to conserving wildlife.
But how exactly do you explain to a stranger that her husband has been mauled by a sloth bear, or tell a farmer that a tiger has devoured his cow on which he relies for his sustenance? Local people’s interactions with the administration—often considered a representation of wildlife itself—start with the way in which people are treated as they receive the news of such losses. These moments can be traumatic and emotionally charged, especially when it is a human life that has been lost. The households wrestling with these losses are then often expected to carry out long protracted procedures to claim financial compensation payments, a process which again defines their view of the larger administrative and governmental system, as well as shapes their future willingness to engage with wildlife authorities and tolerate the proximity of wildlife.
In such contexts, a conservation practitioner’s “people skills” play a critical, yet currently underappreciated, role. In that fraught moment, the individual who represents the authority is seen as a custodian of the wildlife species causing the loss (livestock, crop or human). They also take on another, greater role, that of a human being reacting to the loss of another human, one that requires empathy, humility, and respect. Some people possess these skills naturally and make for very effective wildlife managers with little need for further training. For others, these skills need to be taught and fostered by institutional culture. However, training in dealing with people in trauma and conflict has not been an important part of the curriculum for conservation biologists, practitioners, and wildlife managers. In this article, we build on our collective experiences as conservation professionals to discuss strategies related to public relations that could better equip researchers, forest administrations, and other conservation practitioners in caring for people as well as wildlife.
Read the full article in the Economic and Political Weekly (free on ResearchGate).
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