Kashmir Revolt Helps Endangered Bear Populations
SRINAGAR, India -- The number of endangered Asiatic black bears in Indian Kashmir has jumped between 30 and 60 percent as a separatist revolt that killed thousands of people since 1989 has scared off poachers, wildlife officials said.
An increased security presence in Himalayan forests to root out separatist militants, as well as a ban on hunting, has helped curb poaching and allowed the population of bears to increase from between 800 to 900 animals in 1990.
Officials say poachers -- who hunt the mammals for their fur, paws for food and gall bladder for traditional Oriental medicine -- have stayed away from the pine and conifer forests, fearing they will get caught up in the insurgency.
"For fear of being caught by security forces, militants or in an exchange of fire between the two, no one dares to go deep into forests since the militancy started," said Abdul Rauf Zargar, Kashmir's wildlife warden.
More than 42,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since a revolt against New Delhi's rule over the region began almost 18 years ago, according to officials. Human rights activists put the death toll at 60,000.
The threatened black bear inhabits hilly and mountainous forests across Asia from Afghanistan to Taiwan.
It is a protected species and remains listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Leopards -- also an endangered species in India -- have similarly increased, said officials, but did not give details.
"Besides frequent sightings of leopards and bears, the attacks by these wild animals on people have registered a sharp increase in past several years," said Zargar.
More than 15 people have been killed so far this year by bears and leopards and scores of others have been injured.
Some conservationists say an army fence along India's disputed border with Pakistan, designed to keep out militants, is curbing the movement of bears and leopards which are now wandering into villages and attacking people.