Believed to be the source behind the legend of "Dzu-Teh" or Yeti - the Abominable Snowman, this one of the largest carnivorous creatures - the Himalayan brown bear -already sitting on the brink of extinction may vanish from hills of Himachal Pradesh if large-scale destruction of its habitat continues.
The Himalayan brown bear - a rare species in Himachal - is found only in Kugti and Tundah wildlife sanctuaries in tribal Bharmour and Pangi region of Chamba district. This animal is now facing another threat as its habitat, Rhododendron Campanulatum tree - locally known as Buransh- the state flower of Himachal- is fast disappearing in these sanctuaries owing to over exploitation of fuel wood.
Besides, the increasing human interference has also disturbed the animal. Dr Bipan C Rathore, department of zoology in Government College, Chamba, who has been conducting an extensive study on the ecology of Himalayan brown bear for the past one decade, stresses that the government should take initiatives to preserve the rare animal and save its habitat.
Dr Rathore has also submitted a project to the state wildlife department to develop Tundah wildlife sanctuary a brown bear reserve on the pattern of tiger reserves.
"This animal is very rare and pride of Himachal, but no initiative has been taken to save this animal and now the destruction of its ideal habitat is posing another threat," said Dr Rathore.
Besides, illegal extraction of Nag Chhatri - a shrub having medicinal value that grows under Rhododendron Campanulatum - has led to increased human interference in the habitat of the brown bear.
"Human interference forces the animal to move to other places which disturbs its ecology affecting the population," said Dr Rathore. He also feels that the government should make provision of funds for research and monitoring of the brown bear as little specific information exists on the species due to its fragmented population.
Dr Rathore, who had presented his research paper on brown bear in Canada, says the Tundah wildlife sanctuary is a potential habitat of the brown bear with almost negligible human excess, except nomad shepherds, who graze their animals in this region.
"As compared to Kugti, the Chadola "Dhar" in the Tundah wildlife sanctuary is safer for brown bear as people in the region worship the animal as deity," said Dr Rathore.Besides, Dr Rathore also advocates the concept of wildlife tourism in these sanctuaries.
"The concept already exists in western countries. Seeing such a rare animal in its natural habitat is always a unique experience and the government should take initiative as Himachal has diverse fauna particularly in Chamba region, where rare animals are found," said Dr Rathore.
The population of the brown bear is around 20 in Kugti and less than 15 in Tundah. The animal included in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Himalayan brown bear is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' list of vulnerable animals.