Ashish Kumar Jangid, Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Ravi Kumar Sharma, Wildlife Institute of India

Human maulings and injuries caused by carnivores occur globally, leading to losses of both animal and human life. The Indian subcontinent is known for its rich biodiversity and high human population density, and close sharing of space by people and large carnivores, with commensurate human–wildlife interactions (Treves and Karanth 2003, Sripal 2015). Negative human–wildlife interactions can undermine conservation efforts (Madden and McQuinn 2014).
We conducted a survey of people living in the proposed Jawai Community Conservation Reserve (309 km2; 25.0705°N, 73.1566°E) in Rajasthan state of western India. Jawai is a village located 16 km from Sumerpur town. The community reserve comprises both private and community land, and the local community participates in wildlife and habitat conservation, without any changes in land use patterns. The community reserve is not within the protected area network, but is governed by the Community Reserve Management Committee (The Wildlife Protection Amendment Act 2002).

Proposed Jawai Community Conservation Reserve, Rajasthan, India, where survey was conducted of leading causes of conflicts with sloth bears.

Proposed Jawai Community Conservation Reserve, Rajasthan, India, where survey was conducted of leading causes of conflicts with sloth bears.

The area is part of the Aravalli Mountain Range with interspersed hills and undulating terrain dominated by dry deciduous forests (Champion and Seth 1968).  It is inhabited by sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), which are near the western limit of their range.  Sloth bears are included under Schedule I of India’s Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The area has a high human population density (263/km2) sharing space with wildlife (Sharma 2017). Human–sloth bear encounters occur frequently; however, no scientific studies have been conducted on the sloth bear population, their habitat utilization, level of conflict, and peoples’ perceptions of this conflict. Here we present results of a reconnaissance study aimed at assessing peoples’ perception of the causes of interactions with sloth bears.

Human after an attack. Photo credit: Ashish Kumar Jangid

Human after an attack. Photo credit: Ashish Kumar Jangid

During our reconnaissance survey, we gathered direct and indirect signs of sloth bears.  We confirmed the occurrence of the species in the south-western and central regions of the proposed reserve area, which has 21 villages. We carried out 72 semi-structured interviews in 8 representative villages to assess the characteristics of conflict in the area.

We documented 5 main causes of sloth bear attacks in this area.  Below we list these, with a brief description of each, and indicate the percent of interviewees who perceived this as the primary cause of human–bear conflicts in the area (listed in order of most to least perceived cause):
• Dependency on forests and natural resources by locals (37%): The proposed reserve area is within a human-dominated landscape containing suitable habitat for bears and providing food resources like fruits, termites, ants, honey, and also the Prasad (foods offerings made by devotees in temples). The natural foods of bears are also utilized by locals, resulting in encounters with bears. Sloth bears are especially attracted to Prasad and are even able to open the closed doors of small temples to feed on edibles (similar to recently observed behavior of sloth bears in Maharashtra, India; Singh et al. 2017). These close encounters have resulted in some maulings.• Sanitation unawareness (22%): Open defecation is a common practice by local people in the early morning and late evening Hours due to a lack of sanitation awareness, resources, and toilets. While walking to a place to defecate, people sometimes encounter bears.

Injured sloth bear. Photo credit: Ashish Kumar Jangid

Injured sloth bear. Photo credit: Ashish Kumar Jangid

• Crop raiding (18%): Attraction of bears to crops increases the risk of confrontations with people. Farmers are scared of early morning attacks while irrigating and guarding their crops. The activities of farmers and bears have temporal and spatial overlap (Bargali et al. 2005).
• Livestock grazing (12%): Local semi-pastoral “Rabari” community take their livestock to graze in the proposed reserve. A few livestock are often inadvertently left behind, forcing herders to go back and retrieve them. Incidents of mistaking bears for livestock and approaching them at close range during dawn and dusk has led to some attacks.
• Encounters with nursing bears (10%): Female sloth bears are very protective of their young. As the study area is hilly and speckled with boulders and thick brush, people may not see a female with cubs behind a rock or bush until already too close, leading the bear to burst upon the intruder.

Avoiding these conflicts will require raising awareness of the local community of the need to modify their activity patterns and level of awareness.  We believe more detailed studies are warranted, aimed at identifying conflict hotspots, understanding activity patterns and habitat utilization of bears, and recognizing intensive use areas of both bears and people.

We are thankful to the local villagers, who shared their opinions. We would like to thank the Forest Department, Government of Rajasthan and Wildlife Institute of India. We also thank Mr. Anupam Srivastav, Mr. Samaram and Mr. Lalit Kumar for their supporting efforts during the study.

Literature Cited
Bargali, H.S., N. Akhtar, and N.P.S. Chouhan. 2005. Characteristics of Sloth bear attacks and human casualties in north Bilaspur forest division, Chhattisgarh, India. Ursus 16:263–267.
Champion, H.G. and S.K. Seth. 1968. A revised forest types of India. Government of India, Delhi.
Madden, F. and B. McQuinn. 2014. Conservation’s blind spot: the case for conflict transformation in wildlife conservation. Biological Conservation 178:97–106.
Sharma R. K. 2017. A Country side carnivore- Aspect of Leopard ecology at Jawai, Rajasthan, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, India. M.Sc. Thesis 599.742.7 [544.6] SHA.
Singh, N., J. Rot, S. Sonone, and N. Dharaiya.  2017.  An unusual attractant spurs sloth bear break-ins in Maharashtra, India.  International Bear News 26(3):20–21.
Sripal, R.T. 2015. Understanding stakeholders perception towards human–wildlife interaction and conflict in a tiger landscape-complex of India. M.S. Thesis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.
The Wildlife Protection Amendment Act 2002 (No. 16 of 2003) downloaded from Accessed on February 23, 2018.
Treves, A. and K.U. Karanth. 2003. Human–Carnivore conflict and perspectives on carnivore management worldwide. Conservation Biology 17:1491–1499.

Ashish Kumar Jangid

Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Wildlife Institute of India
Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India- 248001

Ravi Kumar Sharma

Wildlife Institute of India
Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India- 248001

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Spring Vol. 27 No. 1 on pages 11-12