There is something dreamy about the sheath of white snow that covers the picturesque greenery in the Northern valley of Kashmir. This is the best time to spot our rescued Asiatic black bears and Himalayan brown bears in full zeal, frolicking around in snow! The Wildlife SOS Bear Rescue Centres in Jammu and Kashmir have welcomed the first snow of the season and our resident bears surely enjoy it!
The Wildlife SOS Dachigam and Pahalgam Centres are all set for the winters with the necessary arrangements in place. The dens for the bears have been insulated with dry grass or hay along with woolen blankets for extra cushioning. The dens are also equipped with halogen bulbs which keeps them warm and comfortable during the night, when the temperatures drop below zero degrees.
Their diet has also been altered during the winters to include more jaggery and dates. The fruit intake now includes apples which is an all-time favourite for the bears, the bear care staff tends to get creative with the apples, often hiding them in the snow. The black bears love digging up the snow with their curious muzzles placed in to sniff out the apples and munch on them. Our bear care staff serves piping hot porridge that the bears excitedly gulp down before proceeding for a nap.
Understanding that winter care calls for special attention to be given to the bears’ immunity, the veterinary team has introduced feed additives such as liver tonics, vitamin and mineral supplements along with protein. It is of utmost priority that their health is not compromised and all of us get to witness more of the bears as they play around in their favourite season!
The field team at the Wildlife SOS Bear Rescue Centres in Jammu and Kashmir have also made a remarkable observation that the brown bears tend to shed their fur during winters. This seasonal shedding is a natural process by which the bears prepare for the winters, with the regrowth of fur taking place as the weather gets warmer. Not only this, the brown bears and black bears actively dig their dens to move to cosier corners – because who doesn’t love to snuggle in their favourite corners on a cold winter evening?
Over at the sloth bear sanctuaries, the team is gearing up for the seasonal change. In Agra, the temperatures are slowly dipping to single digits, which is why it is crucial for the bear care staff to ensure the bears’ comfort is taken care of. Special care is taken for geriatric bears under our care—their enclosures are covered with thick curtains to shield them from them and inside the enclosure, there is warm bedding material with woolen blankets and dry grass or hay and heaters are installed outside the sleeping dens.
Our sloth bears can be spotted lazily sprawled in different corners of their free-ranging field during the day, basking under the sun. The warm winter sun allows them to keep warm during the day, preparing them fully for the cold nights. Their enclosures, in winters, have halogen lamps and blowers placed, in order for them to remain comfortable during the night – coldest in the Northern parts of India!
The bear care staff can be spotted keenly moving around the fields, filling the dug-out mud pits with dry grass or hay, for insulation – our sloth bears being smart and playful are quick to disintegrate the effort by flinging the dry grass all over the place!
In terms of dietary changes, our sloth bears are stark opposite from the black bears in the North – they no longer enjoy their delectable fruit platter in winters, limiting their options to only banana and other seasonal fruit such as apples. Their special winter diet consists of hot porridge along with jaggery (molasses) and puffed rice balls and the veterinarians introduce nutrients and vitamins to maintain their strength and immunity in the challenging weather.
Rescued sloth bears such as Kanmani, Kabilan and Pooja are picky-eaters and always expect improvisation to their porridge! Their caregivers add warm milk to the porridge for them and that is the only thing that motivates them to finish it, making loud slurping noises.
Our veterinary team and the bear care staff work very hard to provide proper care, comfort and treatment to the bears. The arrival of winters also prepares the bear care staff for an exciting season of celebrations with Christmas round-the-corner! Here is how our rescued bears welcomed Santa this year!