The Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC) in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh successfully released a rehabilitated bear back to the wild. Dr.Murali Pai recounts the experience and the exhilaration of seeing the bear at home in the wild.

Tippi, Arunachal Pradesh:There was a sigh of relief when the bear walked out from her transport crate into the forest of Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR) at the Tippi wildlife range yesterday. Weighing 25 kg at the time of release, this Asiatic black bear  came to CBRC two years ago when she was confiscated from a villager at Singchung – a hamlet located 25 km from Bomdilla in the West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. She was eight months old at the time of rescue and had been kept in a dark room by her captor who had hunted and killed her mother for meat and intended to slaughter the then two month old cub after fattening it up.

CBRC, which is run by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in partnership with International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) aims to rehabilitate such displaced Asiatic black bear cubs in the Pakke Wildlife Sanctuary. CBRC was initiated in March 2002, following an MoU signed between the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and WTI.

This bear was rescued by the forest department along with CBRC staff in August 2003 and the rehabilitation of the bear cub started soon after. From the start, she was wary of humans and showed displeasure on being approached by anyone. The shy bear ate more of foliage from the trees in the enclosure and consumed less of fruit that was offered by her keeper.

In the last few months, the bear could hardly be sighted in the 2200 sq.metres ‘in-situ’ acclimatization yard at the center. When the date of release – 28th November dawned, the staff was prepared for a ‘wild bear’ chase to dart her. Mr C. Loma, the project leader and the Deputy Chief Wildlife Warden and Mr C Ramhluna, the Additional PCCF (Wildlife and Biodiversity) waited a full day to oversee this operation, little realizing that it would take not a few minutes, but an entire day to dart the bear so wild was the bear and so dense the vegetation in the encosure.

After eight hours, at the end of which the team looked like wrung dish cloth, the bear was finally tranquilized. It was 5 pm when she was finally radio-collared and put into a wooden enclosure as a ‘pro temps’ arrangement for the night. The task of transferring the bear to a transport crate had to be done first thing the next morning. The task of fending off frantic phone calls from people waiting for the bear at Tippi fell upon me and was not made easy by the temperamental cellular network.

Early next morning the bear took pity on the team and walked into the transport crate without much ado. After wading through the Pakke River, the rescue van which had turned into a submarine the previous night on getting submerged at a ‘wrong spot’ in the river, took three hours to off-load its precious cargo at the bank of  the Kameng River in Tippi. The crate was then loaded on to the rubberized ‘IFAW-WTI’ inflatable boat given to the forest department of Arunachal Pradesh by WTI in February 2005.

Within one hour, the crate was placed at the release site near the dense forest of Tippi and the bear walked into the wilderness – its real home. Mr. Tana Tapi, the DFO and Mr. Gibi, a Forest Range Officer ensured sufficient patrolling around the release site.

A team of six trackers – a biologist and a veterinarian from WTI, two youth from the local tribe and two residents of Seijosa are currently monitoring the progress of the bear. The monitoring team underwent training in radio telemetry conducted by Dr. P.S. Easa, Senior Director, Conservation, WTI, prior to the release. As of now, the bear has not moved much from the release site, is foraging on wild fruit and displaying the shy and elusive behavior, so typical of its species.

Photos: Dr.Murali Pai(top & middle) & Dr.PS Easa(bottom) /WTI