India

Bear cubs ride ‘palanquin’ to planned freedom in Arunachal

Handlers cover 8 km through fast-flowing streams and dense foliage to shoulder the trip of two orphaned cubs deep inside an acclimatisation centre in Pakke Tiger Reserve.

Loki and Hela, two orphaned Asiatic black bear cubs, were individually driven almost 1,000 km in customised vehicles to the Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC) during the COVID-19 lockdown in May.

The centre adjoins the 861.95 sq km Pakke Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Pakke-Kessang district of Arunachal Pradesh.

But the two cubs probably had the ride of their life more than a fortnight ago — in bamboo ‘palanquins’ shouldered by their handlers through fast-flowing streams and dense foliage in PTR, their home to be.

There are numerous streams within the park that appear benign but are difficult to cross even in winter when there’s less water.

There are numerous streams within the park that appear benign but are difficult to cross even in winter when there’s less water.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Few are as acquainted with the PTR as forest employees Tinku Kino and Kampu Kino and CBRC’s Doluk Dagong and Biri Aman. Familiarity with the landscape, however, was no insurance against a false step during a 20 km journey — an 8 km stretch on foot — for shifting the cubs from the CBRC to an acclimatisation centre deep inside the PTR.

“Rivers such as Kameng, Pakke and Pasanala serve as natural boundaries for much of the PTR. There are numerous streams within the park that appear benign but are difficult to cross even in winter when there’s less water,” PTR’s Divisional Forest Officer P. Tali told The Hindu.

“The rivers provide us a ring of protection, helping us manage with 41 anti-poaching camps. But these very rivers and streams prevent us from covering more ground. It is not easy to negotiate the rivers, especially while carrying bear cubs in a palanquin-like cage,” he said.

According to wildlife veterinarian Panjit Basumatary, the cubs may take about six months at the acclimatisation centre before they can be safely released in the PTR like 26 other cubs reintroduced in the wild since 2003, when the CBRC was set up by International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

Cubs may take about six months at the acclimatisation centre before they can be safely released in the PTR.

Cubs may take about six months at the acclimatisation centre before they can be safely released in the PTR.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Loki, the male cub, was found by a farmer near Dekapam village near Pasighat in East Siang district (of Arunachal Pradesh) on March 30. Hela, the female cub, was rescued from Patgaon village in Assam’s Kamrup district on March 26.

“The cubs could not be brought to the CBRC immediately due to the COVID-19 restrictions. While forest officials in Assam knew how to deal with Hela, my predecessor Madhurjya Borah advised the Dekapam farmer over phone on handling Loki until both could be brought to the CBRC,” Mr. Basumatary said.

The two cubs travelled to the CBRC almost at the same time but they did not meet until August 26. It took a few days for them to get over their aggression towards each other.

“Animals take time to adjust to new environment and overcome the proximity to humans at the rehabilitation centre. Hopefully, they will adapt soon to the acclimatisation centre for an early release into the wild,” Mr. Pali said.

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