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Home / Mumbai News / In a first, leucistic sloth bear spotted in Maharashtra: Forest department

In a first, leucistic sloth bear spotted in Maharashtra: Forest department

The first record of a rare leucistic sloth bear has been documented from Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Maharashtra, the forest department said on Thursday

mumbai Updated: Apr 16, 2020, 21:41 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
There are around 350 sloth bears recorded across the mountainous terrain and dense forests of MTR, but this is the first sighting of a leucistic sloth bear in the state.
There are around 350 sloth bears recorded across the mountainous terrain and dense forests of MTR, but this is the first sighting of a leucistic sloth bear in the state.(Maharashtra forest department and Wildlife Institute of India)

The first record of a rare leucistic sloth bear has been documented from Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Maharashtra, the forest department said on Thursday. The observation comes while the country is under lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in animals causing white, pale or patchy colouration of skin, hair, feathers or scales, but pigment cells in eyes are not affected.

“We have no previous record of luecistic sloth bears from the state. Hence, this is an important find which needs to be studied further,” said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife).

Over the past five years, a sloth bear with a rusty-brown coat was recorded from forests of Dahod, Gujarat in 2016, the forest department said.

Sloth bears are protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and are considered ‘vulnerable’ by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are over a thousand sloth bears in the state, mainly across Chandrapur, Melghat, Gondia and Buldhana districts and in some isolated patches along the west coast.

According to MTR field director MS Reddy, an adult female sloth bear was photographed in a camera trap last week with another of black coat (possibly a male) was sighted at Sipna Wildlife Division of MTR. “While going through our images over the past two days, we stumbled upon this rare find. In this case, the fur of the bear was beige while the colour of head was similar to that of other bears. The snout was also pale,” he said.

Camera traps had been setup under the tiger monitoring study being carried out across Vidarbha landscape by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Maharashtra Forest Department. “This is an interesting record showing the presence of animals of varied colours from the central Indian landscape,” said Bilal Habib, WII scientist.

There are around 350 sloth bears recorded across the mountainous terrain and dense forests of MTR, said Reddy. “This is based on our last waterhole census,” he said adding, “There is no threat to the animal in Sipna zone as it is well-protected with regular foot patrolling of our officers and hardly any villagers.”

While the forest department said such animals had low chances of survival as their colour makes them more susceptible to predation, Nishith Dharaiya, co-chair, IUCN sloth bear expert team said there was no threat to their health due to this condition. “This is a rare genetic condition but different from albinism seen in white tigers, snakes or squirrels in India, and white lions and giraffes in Africa. Leucism is partial loss of pigmentation of the fur. Nonetheless, a genetic examination and behavioural study is necessary to find out the changes in gene mutation,” said Dhairya.

IUCN researchers estimate that there are 20,000 sloth bears across the Indian subcontinent and Sri Lanka. “Maharashtra has massive sloth bear population but they are being protected as secondary animal under the shadow of tiger conservation. Their protection needs to be amplified by the department,” said Dhairya.

Reddy added, “Once the lockdown is called off, we will invite researchers to study and understand the behaviour of this female bear.”

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