Bear of the Month – Nawab!

October 1, 2020 | By Smriti Suri

The Himalayan brown bear is one of the most ancient brown bear lineages, occupying the remote, mountainous areas of Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet and India. The bear is extremely rare for the most part of its range and its populations are small and isolated, thus making conservation efforts surrounding the species an utmost priority. Most often plagued by conflict, Brown bears are almost on the brink of extinction due to rapid habitat loss, poaching for fur, claws and organs, with the most reigning factor being man-bear conflict.

Nawab, one of the Himalayan Brown bears under our care, has an origin story that also stems out of a conflict situation. One of the many conflict scenarios wild animals face is the increasing dependency on the availability of easy food in fringe areas. This leads to wild animals losing the survival instincts they have honed over years and makes it that much harder for them to survive in the wilderness. Nawab was also the victim of a similar situation.

In October 2017, the seven-month-old cub kept finding his way to human habitation where he got easy access to food.
In October 2017, the seven-month-old cub kept finding his way to human habitation where he got easy access to food. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

In October 2017, the seven-month-old cub kept finding his way to human habitation where he got easy access to food. After a couple of incidents, he eventually found his way to a makeshift kitchen in Poshpatri, a location enroute to the pilgrimage site of Amarnath located in the northern state of Jammu & Kashmir. The cub found itself trapped in the kitchen where food was being prepared for Amarnath pilgrims, and sustained some injuries in the process. The J&K Wildlife Department was notified by hapless pilgrims about the presence of the young brown bear cub, leading to its rescue and treatment. Given the circumstances, the young cub could not be released back into the wilderness owing to several failed attempts of reuniting it with the mother.

In an operation lasting over several hours, the young cub was shifted to our rescue centre in Pahalgam in a transport carrier that had to be lugged over extremely hilly terrain by a large group of rescuers from the Wildlife Department. After arrival, the young cub’s aggression stemmed out of fear of the new surroundings and faces, but with dedicated patience his caretakers eventually won his trust. Today Nawab is a happy, active 3 year old bear and has completely taken us all by surprise with his vivacity. He has adapted to his surroundings extremely well, yet still retaining an impulsive streak reminiscent of his wild days.

Today Nawab is a happy, active 3 year old bear and has completely taken us all by surprise with his vivacity. [Photo (C) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Interaction with the gigantic bear is utterly delightful given his cheerfulness and impetuousness. The magnificent bear enjoys playing with enrichments in his enclosure and has a habit of emitting loud excited grunts when he sees his keepers walk in with his food. Local belief is mistaken in the fact that Brown bears are vegetarian whereas in reality they are omnivorous. At our rescue centre, Nawab’s diet very closely imitates what he’d forage in the wild – consisting of a lot of fresh fruits, honey & greens amongst other things. Needless to say, his favourite, without a doubt, is the honey!

One of the most noticeable features of Nawab is his gigantic proportions. The brown bear has a lush brown coat and long white claws which are awesome to behold. Although one who truly knows Nawab will know that this fearsome appearance is merely a façade for the playful personality hidden underneath. In winters, Brown bears often put on a lot of weight as they hibernate for extended periods of time. This is due to the scarcity of fresh food sources in colder months and the unreliability of foraging expeditions. At our centre however, because food isn’t a rare commodity, Nawab doesn’t need to hibernate in winter. Like his wild counterparts, he too puts on weight and retires to the undisturbed parts of his quarters but as observed in the wild, he doesn’t undergo a complete hibernation. As the cold is approaching in Pahalgam, changes in Nawab’s physique are already visible.

The brown bear has a lush brown coat and long white claws which are awesome to behold.[Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Despite his imposing status Nawab is extremely agile and very quick to respond to external spurs. He is quite clever and uses his keen sense of smell to sniff out honey enriched treats which are skilfully hidden for him to find, and spends much of his time scaling the structures in his enclosure. As his keepers relate funny tales of the bear, they talk about Nawab getting into tons of mischief and certain peculiar habits of his that make for delightful stories. One of the most peculiar habits is him sitting on his haunches with his tongue sticking out, and lifting his claws to scratch his head as if engaged in some deep thought.

You can help support Nawab by donating much needed funds that enable us to provide animals like Nawab the life they deserve, here.

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