Ganderbal, Dec 20: Over three quarters of the diet of endangered Himalayan Brown Bears in Kashmir consists of human garbage including plastic bags and chocolate wrappers.
This finding has come to the fore in a survey conducted by Wildlife SOS, a non-profit wildlife conservation charity of the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department that carried out an extensive survey on Himalayan Brown Bear distribution and feeding patterns.
The study has made a shocking discovery that 75 percent of food items in a Brown Bear’s diet were scavenged from garbage.
This included excreted plastic carry bags, milk powder, chocolate wrappers, and Biryani.
“To help conserve these unique bears in Kashmir, Wildlife SOS conducted a Himalayan Brown Bear survey in Kashmir for a period of six months from May to October 2021. The study areas included Thajwas (Baltal) Wildlife Sanctuary, Sonamarg, Laxpathri, Nilgrath, and Sarbal villages that are critical bear habitats and prime tourist destinations. Sonamarg in particular was chosen due to its role as a bear habitat extending up to Zojila," an official statement said. “The official report ‘Himalayan Brown Bear Ecological and Human-Bear Conflict Investigation in Kashmir With Special Reference to Bear Habituation to Garbage Dumps in the Central Wildlife Division’ was recently published. The most riveting and desolating finding in the report is that the Himalayan Brown Bears are raiding garbage and rapidly becoming accustomed to it. On studying 408 scat samples of Brown Bears, the team found out that 86 scats excreted plastic carry bags, milk powder, and chocolate covers. Some scats even had remnants of glass. The frequency of occurrence of garbage was 75 percent higher than wild plant matter, crop raids, and hunted sheep."
Experts said that an ecological shift was happening where few animal species at some places were becoming more dependent on anthropological food waste.
“If we don’t enforce proper waste management strategies, particularly in and around natural sites and forest areas, it will have disastrous implications on wildlife,” they said.
According to experts, garbage dumping sites have both physical and toxicological implications on the animal life.
“Plastics present in garbage gets ingested by wild animals, leading to lethal injuries and damage to digestive tract which results in starvation, ulceration of stomach, reduced fitness, growth problems, and premature death,” they said.
Talking to Greater Kashmir, Project Manager and Education Officer at Wildlife SOS Aaliya Mir said that the rapid development of the area and increased tourism had significantly disrupted the habitat of the Himalayan Brown Bear, forcing the animal to venture close to the human habitation for survival.
“Numerous bears started relying on trash and food waste generated by humans at campsites, hotels, and restaurants for sustenance,” she said.
“The study was conducted to assess the anthropogenic pressure on brown bear habitat, evaluate and mitigate human-bear conflict, and the dependence and habituation of brown bears on garbage dumps,” Aaliya said.