Nishith Dharaiya, Co-chair: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Kartick Satyanaraya, Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Harendra Bargali, Co-chair: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Prachi Thatte, Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Thomas Sharp, Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group

The first-ever formal meeting of the Bear Specialist Group’s Sloth Bear Expert Team (SLBET) was held March 8 and 9, 2018, in Bannerghatta, India. The meeting was sponsored by Wildlife SOS (WSOS) and held at the Jungle Lodge, a 5-minute drive from the WSOS Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center in the Bannerghatta Biological Park, bordering Bannerghatta National Park in the state of Karnataka. SLBET Co-chairs Nishith Dharaiya and Harendra Bargali worked closely with WSOS Co-founders Kartick Satayanarayan and Geeta Seshamani to plan the details of the meeting. The idea for the meeting was conceived during the IBA meetings in Quito, Ecuador, in November 2017, after a discussion with BSG Co-chair Dave Garshelis and attending members of the SLBET. The meeting was viewed as a precursor to a later workshop to develop a rangewide Conservation Action Plan for sloth bears (Melursus ursinus); this is now an IUCN/SSC mandate for all threatened species.

The main goals of the meeting were to:
1. Develop a coordinated network of sloth bear researchers within the different states of India as well as the neighboring sloth bear range countries.
2. Review recent information on the biology, ecology, and population status of sloth bears.
3. Promote science-based conservation: short and long term.
4. Set the stage for the formulation of the sloth bear Species Conservation Action Plan.

Organizers (left to right: Nishith Dharaiya, Arun Sha, Harendra Bargali, Prachi Thatte) addressing the first meeting of the BSG Sloth Bear Expert Team, March 8–9, 2018, Bannerghatta, India. Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

Organizers (left to right: Nishith Dharaiya, Arun Sha, Harendra Bargali, Prachi Thatte) addressing the first meeting of the BSG Sloth Bear Expert Team, March 8–9, 2018, Bannerghatta, India.
Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

The meeting was attended by 26 participants (not including a large contingent from WSOS). The opening session began with a welcome address by Satyanarayan and Seshamani, who also gave a brief background to WSOS’s sloth bear conservation work. This was followed with the keynote address What Does it Take to Save a Species? Presented by Barbara Durrant from the Institute of Conservation Research in San Diego, California. Nishith Dharaiya then explained the objectives of the meeting, and Harendra Bargali discussed the goals and activities of the SLBET. Nishith concluded the opening session with a summary of the recent (2016) sloth bear Red List Assessment.

The rest of the first day included talks by sloth bear researchers from all over India about different aspects of sloth bear ecology, biology, and conservation:
• Conservation of Sloth Bears in Vindhyan Highlands of Uttar Pradesh by D. Sinha
• Sloth Bears in Gujarat: Status, Issues and Scopes for Conservation by N. Dharaiya
• Sloth Bear Conservation Status in Maharashtra by S. Sonone
• Status and Conservation Challenges for Sloth Bears in Karnataka by Sha and Shanmugavelu
• Sloth Bear Connectivity in the Central India Landscape–Central India by P. Thatte
• Status of Sloth Bears in Chhattisgarh and Conservation Challenges by Raj and Pragati
• Conservation Challenges for Sloth Bears in Karnataka from Forest Department Prospective by B.K. Singh
• Sloth Bears in Human Dominated Landscapes of Orissa by P. Maradraj
• Protection and Conservation of Sloth Bear Habitat in North Karnataka by Sha and Shanmugavelu
• Sloth Bear Studies in Dnyanganga Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra by N. Singh
• Habitat Threat and Conservation Strategies for Sloth Bears in Chambal Valley of Kota, Rajasthan by K. Nama
• Research on Sloth Bear Reproductive Behaviour Using Hormone Studies by Y. Khadpekar.

Group photo of participants of the SLBET meeting Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

Group photo of participants of the SLBET meeting
Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

Brainstorming session at the SLBET meeting Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

Brainstorming session at the SLBET meeting
Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

The second day began with a brainstorming session and group discussion about the future of sloth bear conservation. This session concluded that the following activities should be initiated by the SLBET, in collaboration with local NGOs and the Forest Department:
• Develop a sloth bear expert team web page with information on sloth bear research and researchers; funding opportunities; and an archive of sloth bear research papers, reports, and other scientific documents.
• Investigate region-specific population declines.
• Collect data on bear deaths, sign surveys, habitat degradation, and human–bear conflicts.
• Encourage and assist students to carry out research on sloth bears and associated habitats.
• Organize a National Bear Symposium in the near future.
• Prepare a manual of research methodology for the sloth bear.
• Prepare for the next meeting focused on creating a sloth bear conservation action plan.
• Attempt to organize an annual sloth bear conservation meeting.

Satyanarayan and WSOS announced the upcoming International Bear Care Conference in Delhi, India, in December 2018. The SLBET co-chairs requested that WSOS provide the opportunity for a session on sloth bear research during this conference.

The meeting was concluded with a vote of thanks extended by the co-chairs to WSOS for hosting this meeting, N. Sing and A. Malik for assisting in taking notes, and all the attendees for their active participation. The afternoon was spent at the Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Facility and the surrounding sloth bear habitat in the national park.

Nishith Dharaiya

Co-chair: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Hemchandracharya North Gujarat University
Patan, India
Email: nadharaiya@gmail.com

Kartick Satyanarayan

Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Wildlife SOS
Delhi, India
Email: kartick@wildlifesos.org

Harendra Bargali

Co-chair: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
The Corbett Foundation
Uttarakhand, India
Email: bearconservation@gmail.com

Prachi Thatte

Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Tata Institute of Fundamental Research – National Centre for Biological Sciences
Maharashtra, India
Email: prachi.thatte@gmail.com

Thomas Sharp

Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Director of Conservation and Research / Wildlife SOS- USA
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Email: thomas@wildlifesos.org

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Summer Vol. 27 No. 2 on pages 19-20