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Rare Tibetan brown bear species found in Sikkim

First Published: 14th January, 2024 16:13 IST

The Tibetan brown bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus), a subspecies that has recently been added to India's diverse mammalian portfolio, made its first documented appearance in the country.

Wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists are celebrating the remarkable discovery of the rare Tibetan Brown Bear in pristine landscape of Sikkim.

This awe-inspiring find not only marks a significant moment for biodiversity in the region but also highlights the critical need for wildlife preservation.

The Tibetan brown bear (Ursus arctos pruinosus), a subspecies that has recently been added to India’s diverse mammalian portfolio, made its first documented appearance in the country. It was captured on camera traps set by the Sikkim Forest Department and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-India in the towering altitudes of North Sikkim.

Over the last many decades, during interactions with the Dokpas, the nomadic herders from the high-altitude areas of the Tso Lhamo plateau and Muguthang, there was always a mention of a large, unidentified animal stealing sugar and oil stored in the herder camps. This creature, due to its elusive nature, has also inspired the folklore of the Yeti across the Himalayas.

Despite numerous attempts to confirm its existence, it wasn’t until a comprehensive camera trap survey by WWF-India and the Sikkim Forest Department that evidence of the bear emerged.

The camera traps that recorded the bear were placed by Phuchung Lachenpa, Tashi Palden Lachenpa and Palden Lepcha in the high altitudes of Mangan district and caught this elusive bear in December 2023. These photos highlight the characteristic yellowish scarf-like collar of this bear that broadens from the shoulders to the chest.

This omnivorous bear, feeding on marmots and alpine vegetation, is markedly different from the more common Himalayan Black Bear, not only in appearance but in its preference for high-altitude habitats above 4000 meters and its reclusive behavior.

The Tibetan brown bear, also known as the Tibetan blue bear, is one of the rarest subspecies of bears in the world, and is rarely sighted in the wild. It is uniquely adapted to the harsh conditions of the Tibetan Plateau. Until now, there were only a few confirmed records from Nepal, Bhutan and the Tibetan plateau. Consequently, it has been accorded the highest protection status under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 by listing it under Schedule-I. It is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as a protected species.

This significant find emphasizes Sikkim’s ecological wealth and the potential for further discoveries in the region. The Tibetan Brown Bear’s presence enriches the ecological narrative of the area and sparks enthusiasm among scientists and nature lovers. The discovery is a testament to the Forest and Environment Department’s dedicated conservation efforts, striving to protect the state’s wildlife and their habitats.

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