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Wild sloth bear set free in India

A wild sloth bear has been relocated and released as part of a new effort to study human-bear conflict in India.

The relocation was carried out by IAR’s Indian partners Wildlife SOS and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department under the leadership of the Honourable Chief Minister Mr Akhilesh Yadav.

A robust and healthy four year old adult male sloth bear was released in to the Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh (UP) after he was declared fit for release by the vets at Wildlife SOS’s Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF.) The rescue centre, funded by International Animal Rescue and Free the Bears Fund Australia, is the largest sloth bear facility in the world.

The Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary in Eastern UP is an important wildlife sanctuary for large carnivores in India and rich in biodiversity. This unprecedented release of a wild sloth bear following translocation from a village in Shikohabad—near Agra— to the Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary represents the first opportunity to study this little known species of sloth bear in regard to human-wildlife conflict.

Wildlife SOS rescued the wild sloth bear about eight weeks ago in response to calls from the UP Forest Department and public concern, after conflict ensued following the sighting of the wild ursid by locals. According to initial reports the lone bear’s presence near the village of Shikohbad created widespread panic.

Wildlife SOS veterinarian Dr Ilayaraja and his rescue team tranquillised the wild bear in a five hour-long rescue operation. They removed the animal from a 30 foot long underground culvert where it had taken refuge.The bear was trapped in this storm drain

The bear was relocated to Wildlife SOS’s Agra Bear Rescue Facility not far from the Taj Mahal for observation and subsequent treatment. The rescue centre is the largest bear rehabilitation facility in the world and is primarily dedicated to the rehabilitation of former dancing bears.

The bear was released just days ago following a 15 hour drive from Agra to the wildlife sanctuary, which is 120 km long and 5 to 9 km across and situated near the Indo-Nepal border.

Chief Wildlife Warden Dr Rupak De said: “This is the first time a sloth bear has been released successfully into the wild with a radio collar. The data from tracking the movements of the bear will help the Forest Department understand bear behaviour and mitigate future conflict between people and wild bears. We are happy to be collaborating with Wildlife SOS to carry out this important study on human-wildlife conflict.”

Wildlife SOS CEO and co- founder Kartick Satyanarayan said: “This successful release was possible thanks to the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department under the leadership and visionary approach of the Honorable Chief Minister Shri Akhilesh Yadav. Our research team is currently monitoring the bear’s movements and will also document habitat use and ranging patterns of the bear.”The bear is a blur as he races for freedom!

As more conflict bears are radio collared and monitored, the resultant data gathered will contribute to understanding and mitigation of Human-Bear Conflict (HBC) which is on the rise in many parts of India.

India is home to four species of bears, but only the sloth bear is endemic to South Asia. The mainland subspecies, Melursus ursinus ursinus, occurs on the Subcontinent. As few as 5000 to 7000 sloth bears are estimated to live in fragmented populations across the Indian Subcontinent. Although India is considered a stronghold for the mainland and nominate subspecies of Melursus ursinus, even in protected areas like the Suhelwa sloth bears are never far from heavily populated human dominated landscapes.

Watch the short video of the bear's release here.