By Anand Bodh
SHIMLA: After conserving snow leopard and western tragopan, Himachal Pradesh is going to launch a conservation programme for the endangered Himalayan brown bear by setting up the country's first conservation and breeding centre for the pheasant in Chamba district, for which the Union government has already given in-principle approval. The proposed centre is likely to start functioning in the next three-four months.
According to sources, a survey conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2006 estimated the number of Himalayan brown bear to be around 500 to 750, spread among 23 protected areas and 18 other localities in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In HP, the Himalayan brown bear is found only in Kugti and Tundah wildlife sanctuaries, besides Pangi region of Chamba district.
As in the case of endangered snow leopards, there is no exact data available about the Himalayan brown bear whose numbers are believed to have dwindled over the years.
Officials said that due to its declining population, the Himalayan brown bear has been included in Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Himalayan brown bear is also on the list of vulnerable animals prepared by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, they added.
Senior wildlife officials said that the proposed centre would help in conducting the census of brown bear to formulate the conservation programme accordingly. For the proposed centre, the required land has been identified at Chobia in Bharmour. Officials said that important questions of conservation relate to good estimates of its population, area needed for each animal (as per its age and sex), topography and disturbance and their ability to movement across human and natural barriers.
Official sources said that the state wildlife department had submitted a proposal to establish a breeding-cum-conservation centre, which has been approved by the Central Zoo Authority. Under the project, there is a plan to spend around Rs 14 crore on breeding and conservation centre.
Himachal Pradesh Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Dr Lalit Mohan said that work has already started on the country's first breeding and conservation centre. He said that population of Himalayan brown bear is small and isolated due to which it is extremely rare. He said that in the next three-four months, the centre would be made fully functional.
This is not the first time when Himachal Pradesh has launched conservation and breeding programme for the endangered species. Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has already accepted a Rs5.15-crore project to launch a globally unique and field-based snow leopard research and conservation facility in Spiti Valley in the tribal Lahaul-Spiti district. The project would undertake India's first comprehensive and long-term radio-collaring project for the snow leopard. Permission has already been received for the radio collaring of six snow leopards. Use of radio telemetry would help to understand snow leopard ranging along human pressure gradient in Spiti.
Central Zoo Authority (CZA) of India had approved a project for conservation breeding of western tragopan at Sarahan Pheasantry during 2003-04 for Rs 493.90 lakh in 2003 having CZA share of Rs364.95 lakh and state share of Rs128.95 lakh. In 2012, a total of seven females incubated the eggs naturally, which represents nearly 75% of the individuals of the captive population and is the highest number of females incubating the eggs naturally till now. Seven chicks have been mother-reared. The conservation programme launched by the wildlife department has finally paid dividends with captive breeding of western tragopan showing encouraging signs. The western tragopan is among the rarest pheasants, endemic to a narrow range in the temperate region of the Greater Himalayas. Presently, there are 24 captive birds in Sarahan Pheasantry, which is the only place in the world to hold western tragopan in captivity. With only 2,000-3,000 sq km area of potential habitat available, its world population size is precariously low, with fewer than 5,000 individuals as per the estimate in early 1980s.