Baluchistan Black Bear on its verge of extinction

In Pakistan the Himalayan Black Bear is found in the mountains of Azad Kashmir, Khagan, Swat Kohistan and Southern Chitral, in Chitral Gol National Park. It is also found in Ayubia National Park. The sub specie, Baluchistan Bear is found in the higher hill ranges of Baluchistan, such as Takht-e-Suliman and Toba Kakar. It is also found in Ziarat, Kalat and Khuzdar. Many believe it to be the only “true” subspecies of Asiatic Black Bear.

The Baluchistan black bear (Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus) locally known as “Kala Reech in Urdu,Kala Bhalom, Mum in Baluchi was once widely distributed in most of Baluchistan. This medium-sized, black-colored bear has a lightish muzzle and ears which appear large in proportion to the rest of its head, especially when compared with other species of bears. There is a distinct white patch on the chest, which is sometimes in the shape of a V, and white on the chin. A brown color phase also occurs. The Baluchistan black bear is a sub-species of the Asiatic or Himalayan black bear. It is smaller and possesses short, coarse, rufous brown fur in the specimens from the south while those from the north are much darker as compared to the Himalayan black bear. Sexual maturity of females is thought to occur at three to four years of age. In Pakistan, mating has been reported to occur in October, with young being born in February. Cubs are weaned at less than six months old, but may stay with their mothers for two to three years. Females have sometimes been reported with cubs of different ages. Baluchistan black bears are thought to mate in October and cubs are born in February. The bears are reported to be mainly nocturnal, sleeping in trees or caves during the day. The Baluchistan black bear is usually sighted in the rainy season from August to November. Asiatic black bears have been reported to feed on a wide range of foods, including fruits, bees’ nests, insects, invertebrates, small vertebrates, and carrion. They occasionally kill domestic livestock, but the degree to which they prey on wild hoofed mammals is unknown.

A number of stories and mysterious tales have been perpetuated about the species among the locals i.e. dragging humans to caves etc. The Baluchistan black bear’s habitat ranges from Iranian Baluchistan to the Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. According to T.J. Roberts, this species has been reported in the Sulaiman Range, Ziarat, Harnai, Khuzdar, Kharan and the Lasbela Hills, but now it is considered extinct in most of the areas. The major stronghold of the species is now in the Pub Range (Khuzdar Hills) where it is mostly confined to arid sub-tropical thorn forest. Two surveys have been conducted one by WWF-Pakistan in 1993-96 and the other by the Himalayan Jungle Project in 1994 and both confirmed the presence of the species in the Pub area. The population status is not certain, but local hunters report 8-10 animals still survive in the area. A WWF survey team has also reported scats and footprints of the Black Bear in the Sulaiman range in 1998.

It once was found in almost the entirety of Baluchistan. However, it is now considered extinct in most of the area. The Baluchistan Bear is one of the world’s rarest mammals and is listed in the IUCN’s Red List of threatened species.It is also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), banning all internatal trade of any products derived from the species. Efforts are being made to save the bear, though it is still threatened by deforesting and over hunting. The natural life span is from 25 to 30 years. The black bear is threatened with extinction due to loss of habitat, deforestation and from local Gypsies, or “Kalanders”, who capture bear cubs for bear baiting and for dancing. The main threat to the species is its persecution by the locals. Bears are usually killed when they are found predating on goats and their kids. People also kill the bears to sell its fur and to collect its fat for medicinal use. The second important factor that threatens the species is that it has not been explored and studied properly. The habitat has been seriously disturbed during the decades of the 80’s and 90’s.

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