Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vanishing Species - The Himalayan Brown Bear

An Article by Mohan Pai
The Himalayan Brown Bear
(Ursus arctos isabellinus)

The Himalayan Brown Bear is believed to be a possible source of the legend of the Yeti.

Brown Bears are the second largest species of bear, only the polar bear is larger. They have a body length between 2 and 3 m (6.5 - 9.75 ft), a tail length between 5 and 20 cms (2 - 8 inches) and they weigh between 100 and 1,000 kg (220 - 2,200 lbs). Males can be up to 50% larger than females. The worldwide population of the Brown Bear is estimated at about 2,00,000.

The Himalayan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) is a subspecies of the Brown Bear. Himalayan Brown Bears are usually sandy or reddish-brown in color. They are located in the foothills of the Himalaya and northern Pakistan and do not extend past Dachigam and Kashmir. The actual population of the bears is unknown due to their rarity but is estimated at around 20-28 in the Deosai National Park. The Himalayan Brown Bear and the Himalayan Red Bear (the Dzu-Teh) are also believed to be the source of the legend of the Yeti.Himalayan Brown Bears are smaller than the Alaskan species. Males range from 1.5m up to 2.2m (4ft 11in - 7ft 3in) long, while females are 1.37m to 1.83m (4ft 6 in - 6ft) long.

Brown bears feed on insects, small crustaceans, alpine bulbs and roots of plants, shoots of young grasses, domestic goats, sheep, and voles. Brown bears feed actively from 1-2 hours before sunrise and again for several hours in the late afternoon and evening. They are nocturnal, and their sense of smell is acutely developed and believed to be their principal means of finding food. Adult bears normally go into hibernation (dormancy) at the end of October and emerge around the following March or April. They excavate their own hibernating lair or den under a large boulder or between the roots of a stunted tree, or they may utilise a natural cavern. Hibernation appears to be intermittent, with the animal occasionally waking up and becoming active. Mating occurs in the spring and early summer, and the females give birth to cubs, generally two in number. The cubs are are blind at birth and weigh no more than one pound at birth. They are covered with short, silky, rather dark brown hair. Born in January, the cubs stay in the lair with their mother until she first emerges from hibernation in late April, and will remain with their mother for two to three years. Females are believed to breed first at the age of five years during their winter hibernation. The gestation period is from 180-250 days. The life-span of this species is about 45 years.

Distribution and Status:

The Himalayan brown bear is generally restricted to alpine meadow and sub-alpine scrub zones above the tree-line in the northern mountain regions of India having Dachigam and Kashmir as its limits. The brown bear is uncommon in India and is considered rare. According to Dr. A.J.T. Singh, (Wildlife Institute of India, letter to Servheen,1988,) the brown bear was sighted just twice during a 9 month Snow Leopard survey in the Jammu and Kashmir States. Hence status of population is unknown. International trade in these bears, or their parts, is banned under CITES ( Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and by the Wildlife Protection Act in India.

About the Ecoregion (Western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests)

There are not a lot of mammal species found in this ecoregion, but of those that are here, many are threatened or endangered. These species include the southern serow (Naemorhedus sumatraensis), the Brown Bear(Urses arctos), Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus), and markhor (Capra falconeri). The ecoregion’s bird fauna consists of 285 species, of which 9 are endemic to the ecoregion, including the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa), orange bullfinch (Pyrrhula aurantiaca), and Kashmir nuthatch (Sitta cashmirensis). Other species such as pheasants, and tragopans e.g., Koklass pheasant (Pucrasia macrolopha), western tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus), and Himalayan monal (Lophophorus impejanus) are characteristic of these subalpine western Himalayan forests and have low disturbance thresholds. The Himalayan griffon (Gyps himalayensis), a large bird of prey that soars high above the mountains in these alpine regions and embodies the sense of space in the high Himalayas, can be another focal species.

Cause for Concern

Although the ecoregion is less populated than some of the other Himalayan ecoregions, (especially those in the lower elevations), more than 70% of the natural habitat has been cleared or degraded. Nevertheless, this ecoregion contains some of the least disturbed forests in the western Himalayas. The 11 protected areas cover 2,400 km2, or about 6% of the ecoregion. The steep slopes of some of the high mountains have been deforested for intensive cultivation, although the practice of terracing has greatly reduced erosion. Large-scale collection of the morel mushroom (Morchella esculenta) from this ecoregion by the local people for export coincides with the breeding season of several pheasants and high altitude mammals. Collection of wood by the local people for their own use and for sale to tourist trekkers and mountaineering parties is also a substantial threat, especially as the high altitude forests are very slow to regenerate.

More about the Brown Bear

The brown bear is the most widespread bear species. They can be found over most of Europe, North America, and northern Asia. The most stable populations of brown bear are found in North America and Russia. In North America, they are found mainly in the northwestern regions of Alaska, Canada and a few scattered populations in the northwestern United States. Their range does not go as far south as it once did, and brown bears are no longer found south of the Mexican border. Only four populations of brown bear remain in central and western Europe: in the Cantabrian Mountains of Spain, the Pyrenees Mountain Range, the Alps, and the Abruzzo Mountains of Italy. Some populations exist in Scandanavia and in the Catharpan and Balkan mountains. In Asia, the bear population is declining rapidly to to extensive hunting for their body parts. However, there is still a large population in the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Worldwide Population and Distribution

Brown bears used to be one of the most widespread land mammal, but their species is threatened. The current worldwide estimated population is 200,000 bears. The largest population is in Russia, with 120,000 bears. The United States has an estimated 32,500 bears (with 30,000 of those living in Alaska, and the remaining populations scattered in 5 separate populations in the lower 48 states in the north west). Canada has an estimated 21,750 bears. Brown bears are extinct in Mexico, with the last one spot in 1960. In Europe, there is an estimated 14,000 bears in ten fragmented populations. They are extinct in the British Isles. Brown bears are extremely rare in France and Spain, and threatened over much of central Europe. Outside of Russia, the bear population is largest in the Carpathian mountain area, with 4,500-5,000 bears.
Brown bears live in scattered populations in the northwestern United States in the states of Washington state, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. The largest population is in Yellowstone, with about 600 bears, and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem of northwest Montana has a population of about 400-500 bears. The rest are sparsely scattered throughout the northwest in isolated populations.

The Species Ursus arctos includes the following subgroups:

Subspecies: Ursus arctos formicarius (Carpathian bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos arctos (European brown bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos gobiensis (Gobi bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos horribilis (grizzly bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos isabellinus (Himalayan brown bear) Subspecies: Ursus arctos yesoensis (Hokkaido brown bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos piscivorus (Kamchatka bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos middendorffi (Kodiak bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos marsicanus (Marsican bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos nelsoni (Mexican grizzly bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos beringianus (Siberian brown bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos syriacus (Syrian brown bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos pruinosusm (Tibetan blue bear)

Subspecies: Ursus arctos lasiotus (Ussuri brown bear)

Acknowledgements: Wildlife SOS, Wikipedia, WWF Report.

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Rehmat Alam said...

Nice and informative article. There is a misconception among the organism. The Yeti is actually the Himalayan Bear.

aparna.menon.blogspot.in said...

Sir,
Just read your article and found it very informative indeed.
I am a freelance writer and am doing an article on the Brown bear for the Young World of the Hindu. I am looking for good resolution pictures for the same and was wondering if you could help me with that??
If you do have pictures, could you send them to me on my mail id aparnamenon5769@gmail.com.
Thanks very much.