Even as the entire focus of the government as also the media continues to remain on tiger conservation, Madhya Pradesh is fast losing its bears to poachers.
Though the actual figures could be much higher, according to the government, on an average 4 to 5 sloth bears are killed by poachers every year for sourcing their reproductive organs and gall bladders, which are the key ingredients of aphrodisiacs in Chinese medicine. Poachers are rarely caught in the forest. Most cases are detected after the crime has been committed.
Sloth bear (Ursus ursinus), one of the four species of bears found in India, is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Habitat degradation due to increased human population, diminished food resources, trade in body parts and increased man-animal conflict is a posing a serious threat to its existence. Sloth bears are protected under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and have been listed as a vulnerable species in the IUCN Red list. According to rough estimates there are just around 15,000 bears left in Madhya Pradesh and other central states.
In Chinese medicine, bear body parts are used to stimulate sexual potency and in the treatment of various ailments like cardiac problems, eye puffiness, asthma, cancer, burns, liver problems and impotence. Bears are the only mammals to produce significant amounts of the bile acid tauro ursodeoxycholic (UDCA), which is used to dissolve gall stones.
In April this year, after four bears were killed by poachers in Chindwara, Betul and Khandwa, the government was forced to constitute a special investigation team to probe the matter and investigate whether there was a well-knit network of poachers or were they separate incidents.
The authorities suspect that a major poaching network is in place. They got a clue when two Pardi tribal hunters were arrested last year. They had killed bears in Mandla district but had been arrested by Maharashtra forest officials and put in Nagpur jail. During questioning, it came to light that these poachers regularly hunted bears around Kanha Tiger Reserve in Mandla district. Now, the government is pushing for NARCO test of these hunters to know more details.
State’s chief wildlife warden Narendra Kumar told HT that he has taken a proactive stance on the bear killings and written a letter in May this year to all senior wildlife officials in the state, expressing concern that the investigations into bear killings were not being taken seriously. He instructed the officials to get hold of the call records of poachers and suspected poachers and get them analysed for exploring whether there were some organised poaching networks that were killing bears in MP. "In my letter I also expressed concern that in the post mortem report of the bears, there was no mention whether gall bladders and reproductive organs were missing or not. I urged doctors that they should mention these things without fail," he said.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey claims poachers regularly target sloth bears as many of their carcasses found over the years had missing body parts. He further claimed that if call details of hunters are analysed regularly and NARCO tests conducted on arrested ones, the network of poachers would be exposed.