Wildlife SOS research co ordinator Usham S. Singh recently presented a paper -“Black bear-human conflict in the Western Himalayan region of Kashmir, India” at the 15th International Forestry and Environment Symposium, held at Colombo, Sri Lanka from 26th-27th November, 2010. The paper was co-authored by Usham Singh, Thomas Sharp, Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani. 

The presentation highlighted the high rate of bear-human conflict occurring in Kashmir and the findings of the extensive survey conducted during 2008 and 2009 in Kashmir by Wildlife SOS. The presentation started with a brief overview on the bear-human conflict in Kashmir and also summarized various reasons of conflict namely increase in human population, habitat loss, increase in livestock population, changing cropping pattern, etc. It demonstrates that bears attack humans causing death or serious injury and raid crops & killed livestock causing loss to human property.

During the presentation, the issue of human settlement in the mountains, the forming of an agro-settlement complex in the natural forest and the rise in orchard farms across the valley were shown as the primary driver of bears towards human settlements. Some of the important findings of the study were the higher frequency of attacks on human males as compared to females and higher frequency of attacks occurring on farms as compared to natural forest. Bear attacks often cause serious injury in the majority of the victims and occasionally is fatal. Seasonal analysis also showed that autumn and summer account for more than 70 % of the attack since it coincides with the fruit harvest in Kashmir.

The paper discussed also the high statistic of people (32 %) who do not apply for compensation, mainly because it is a time consuming procedure. Moreover, the compensated amount is found to be comparatively lesser than the actual cost of medication and loss. Therefore, one of the primary recommendations of the paper is to bring about changes in the compensation fund covering the cost of medication / and loss to property to be better evaluated. The need for more transparency in the compensation process to encourage people to avail of the fund is proposed. It also recommends systematic fencing of the orchards to create space between bears and human farmland.

The presentation also highlighted some of the important steps taken up by Wildlife SOS in its effort to mitigate the conflict situation. The ground staff of the J & K Wildlife Department was provided with training and equipments on the use of tranquilizing guns, drugs and doses to be used in workshops organized by Wildlife SOS in the different forest divisions. Abundance estimation of the black bear has also been carried out in collaboration with J & K Wildlife Protection Department. Rescue and rehabilitation of the displaced and bears in conflict are currently undertaken and in progress. Wildlife SOS believes that people participation in conservation and developing public support are vital in managing black bear-human conflict. The presentation also highlights the extensive effort of the WSOS team in educating the locals and students of schools and colleges across the Kashmir.

During the two days of Symposium, more than 200 papers were presented and discussions were held on various issues of environment and biodiversity conservation. It was attended by 40 foreign participants and more than 150 local participants. The symposium was well coordinated and will definitely help in promoting conservation in general and more specifically the conservation of Black Bears in Jammu and Kashmir.