The Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) is a species of brown bear found in the Himalayan regions of the Indian subcontinent. The Himalayan brown bear is generally restricted to the alpine meadows and sub-alpine scrub zones above the tree line in the Himalayan regions of India and Pakistan. In India, it occurs in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Although the brown bear species as a whole is listed as “Least Concerned” by the IUCN Red List, the Himalayan subspecies is highly endangered and populations are dwindling.
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Description of the Himalayan Brown Bear
- The Himalayan brown bear, a subspecies that represents an ancient lineage of the brown bear, is distributed over the Great Himalayan region.
- The Himalayan brown bear historically occupied the western Himalayas, the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, the Pamir, the western Kunlun Shan, and the Tian Shan ranges in southern Asia.
- Himalayan Brown Bears have large thick fur which is sandy or reddish-brown in colour.
- Males are larger than females ranging from 150 to 230 cm compared to 137 to 183 cm for females.
- The bears are found in Nepal, Tibet, West China, North India, North Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all of Kyrgyzstan and South-east Kazakhstan.
- They are already speculated to have become extinct in Bhutan.
- The actual population of the bears is unknown. Around 20-28 animals have been estimated in the Deosai National Park, in Pakistan controlled Kashmir. Less than 100 individuals have been estimated in the south and west Ladakh.
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Behaviour of the Himalayan Brown Bear
- The Himalayan Brown Bear prefers open valleys and pastures. During summer the bears move as high as 5500 metres and descend into the valleys in the autumn.
- The Himalayan Brown Bear goes into hibernation around October and emerges around April and May. They hibernate in their own dens just like other bear species.
- Himalayan brown bears are omnivores feeding on grass, rottes, plants and small animals. They also have a preference for fruits and berries. Their prey can also include sheep and goats. Adults will eat before sunrise and later during the afternoon.
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Conservation Status of the Himalayan Brown Bear
- The Wildlife Protection Act prohibits trade in any product related to the Himalayan Brown Bear.
- Unlike other brown bear subspecies, which are found in good numbers, the Himalayan brown bear is critically endangered.
- The bears are hunted for their fur and claws for ornamental purposes and internal organs for use in medicines.
- They also face additional threats from shepherds who attack the bears in retaliation for livestock attacks. The bear’s home are also destroyed by human encroachment along with environmental changes.
- The sanctuary for Himalayan Brown Bears is in Himachal Pradesh in the tribal Chumba region. Their estimated population is just 20 in Kugti and 15 in Tundah.
- The tree bearing the state flower of Himachal buransh, is the favourite habitat of the bear. Due to the high value of the buransh tree, it is being commercially cut causing further destruction to the brown bear’s home.
- In India, brown bears are present in 23 protected areas in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, and the states of Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, but only in two of these the bears are regarded as fairly common.
- There are likely less than 1,000 bears, and possibly half that in India.
- IUCN Status of Himalayan Brown Bears – Critically Endangered
- IUCN Status of Brown Bears – Least Concern
- Habitat fragmentation due to various developmental activities.
- Poaching of the animal for its skin, fats and other body organs for use in traditional medicines.
- Trapping of bear cubs by gypsy tribes who train them for dancing and circus shows. Often the mother is killed during the capture of the cubs.
- Killed by humans to reduce livestock depredation.
- With a very small percentage of their habitat falling within protected areas, the Himalayan brown bear is inadequately protected by legal institutions.
- The Himalayan brown bear is protected as a ‘Schedule I’ species in the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
- In 1993, a study was conducted in the bear-inhabited Deosai Plateau in Pakistan controlled Kashmir, following which Deosai was designated as a National Park.
- TRAFFIC – India monitors the trade of this species and its products.
- In India, the Forest Departments have started paying compensation for livestock kills, as well as human injury and death by brown bears.
There is an urgent need for the IUCN to assess the subspecies of Ursus arctos isabellinus separately and not as a part of the species Ursus arctos in order to obtain a true picture of its present status.
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FAQ about Himalayan brown bear
How many Himalayan brown bears are there in India?
What are the characteristics of Himalayan brown bears?
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