Attur Shanmugam Arun, Wildlife SOS
Shanmugavelu Swaminathan, Wildlife SOS
Thomas Sharp, Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Yogaraj Panerselvam, Wildlife SOS
Kartick Satyanarayan, Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Geeta Seshamani, Wildlife SOS

For 6 months in 2017, the field research team of Wildlife SOS had been tracking a radio-collared wild sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) in the forests of Bannerghatta National Park on the outskirts of Bangalore in Karnataka. The female bear was not originally from the park but from an area roughly 30 km away. She had been translocated there because she was a problem bear, believed to be responsible for attacking and killing a local person. Before she was released into the park, Wildlife SOS had received permission to put a very high frequency, Global Positioning System (VHF/GPS store-on-board) collar on her. After about 6 months she seemed to be doing very well and settling into a specific area based on the data we were collecting through tracking her by VHF triangulation. And she rarely (though occasionally) entered the border areas outside the park where there were farms and small villages. We were happy to see that she was staying out of trouble and spending the vast majority of her time within the park. We were even able to get some camera-trap photos of her on December 6, 2017. She looked great—healthy and active! The WSOS researchers were all encouraged by how she was doing, and we were eager to see the finer detail GPS data being collected and stored in her collar.

Known sloth bear fatalities caused by baited explosives in Karnataka, India.
Incident Date District / Division Location Sex
1 Aug 26, 2014 Tumkur Tumkur Female
2 Mar 11, 2015 Ramnagara Ramnagara Female
3 Jun 13, 2016 Ramnagara Sathanoor Female
4 Jul 31, 2016 Ramnagara Sathanoor Range Male
5 May 1, 2017 Chikkamangalur Kaddur Female
6 May 19, 2017 Chikkamangalur Kaddur Male
7 Jan 5, 2018 Ramnagara Ramnagara Female
8 Jan 21, 2018 Bannerghatta National Park Kodihalli Range Female
A problem sloth bear translocated to Bannerghatta National Park, near Bangalore, Karnataka, India, was tracked with a VHF/GPS collar and camera-trapped in December 2016, 6 months after being moved. She was settling in the area and rarely ventured out of the park. Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

A problem sloth bear translocated to Bannerghatta National Park, near Bangalore, Karnataka, India, was tracked with a VHF/GPS collar and camera-trapped in December 2016, 6 months after being moved. She was settling in the area and rarely ventured out of the park.
Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

On January 21, however, the signal location from this bear had not moved all day. She was eventually found dead. We conducted a full necropsy, but this was unnecessary, as the cause of death was immediately evident. She had bitten into an explosive device (a “country-made bomb”), hidden in a food bait. Her entire tongue, roof of the upper mandible, and skull were severely damaged. As if this was not enough, during the necropsy we discovered that she had been pregnant with two fetuses. The only bit of good news was that we were able to salvage and recover the collar from the dead bear, which enabled us to retrieve the GPS data of her movements.

These home-made explosive devices are known to be used throughout Southeast Asia by farmers to remove depredating wildlife, and poachers to obtain certain wildlife parts; but they are unselective, and kill any other unfortunate wild animal whose curiosity got the better of it. We were aware that these explosive devices were being used in southern India and had documented several sloth bear deaths over time, however the issue never really grabbed our attention –– until now. The death of this valuable radio-collared bear indicated to us that this was potentially a real threat and prompted us to investigate further and dig into our records. Our investigations also revealed local witnesses who confirmed many other cases. Since August 2014, we documented 8 sloth bear fatalities in the southern Indian state of Karnataka alone. Six of the 8 bears were females confirming that this is indeed impacting the population.

The sloth bear monitored by Wildlife SOS in Bannerghatta National Park was killed by an explosive bait after she wandered outside the park. Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

The sloth bear monitored by Wildlife SOS in Bannerghatta National Park was killed by an explosive bait after she wandered outside the park.
Photo credit: Wildlife SOS

The making, possession and use of these explosives are illegal in India, yet they seem to be commonly used in southern India, particularly Karnataka. They are generally made from mining supplies and used to kill Indian boars (Sus scrofa cristatus) for their meat. The people who use them tend to put them out during the night and pick them up in the morning before cattle or humans can be injured, which could get them into a great deal of trouble with local authorities as that would be a non-bailable offence and a heinous crime. Unfortunately, despite these incidents being reported to the authorities, the threat to wildlife is not taken as seriously and action is yet to be taken against these offenders, which likely emboldens them further. Sloth bears and wild boars are not the only species threatened by these explosives: we are aware of reports of elephants that lost a limb, trunk or jaw to these baited explosives.

Moving forward, Wildlife SOS will continue investigations into the use of these explosives for poaching wildlife in India, while pushing for law enforcement to control this serious threat to India’s wildlife.

 

 

Attur Shanmugam Arun

Wildlife SOS
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Email: arun@wildlifesos.org

Shanmugavelu Swaminathan

Wildlife SOS
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Email: swaminathan@wildlifesos.org

Thomas Sharp

Member: Sloth Bear Expert Team, IUCN Bear Specialist Group
Wildlife SOS
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Email: thomas@wildlifesos.org

Yogaraj Panerselvam

Wildlife SOS
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
Email: yogaraj.wildlife@gmail.com

Kartick Satyanarayan

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

Geeta Seshamani

Wildlife SOS
Delhi, India
Email: geeta@wildlifesos.org

originally published in International Bear News 2018 Summer Vol. 27 No. 2 on pages 13-14