Last Dance Of The Sloth Bear: We Have To Save The Depleting Species Before It’s Too Late

Flappy gait, shabby fur, grunts followed by the clanking of chains and the sound of a whip. The rattling dumroo meant it was time for the animals to perform tricks for the onlookers. As they dance to the beats of the dumroo, they wince every time their handlers pull at the rope that goes through the nose piercing. For hundreds of years, sloth bears were at the mercy of the Kalandar nomads. What started as a source of entertainment in the courts of the Mughal rulers later found a place in the streets, with unfortunate living conditions. Sloth bears, for sure, had an unfortunate brush with our kind. Native to the Indian subcontinent, the sloth bear is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, mainly because of habitat loss and degradation.

Globally, there are eight species of bears: Polar bear in the Arctic region, the biggest carnivore on land; Black bear (American black bear) of Northern America and Canada; Grizzly bear (also known as Tibetan blue bear or brown bear) found in North America, Europe, Central Asia, high altitude areas of Ladakh and Uttarakhand; Andean bear (spectacled bear) of South America; Asiatic black bear of Eastern and Southern Asia; Panda in China; Sun bear of Southeast Asia (Northeast in India); and Sloth Bear of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan.

The first time I came across anything bear-related was back in 2015 at Kanha National Park. The mahua tree trunks had claw marks which my feline-obsessed brain assumed would be of a tiger’s. My guide corrected “sher nahi, bhalu”. He explained how both the local Gond tribe and bears share the fondness for mahua, often resulting in a less-than-pleasant outcome. I was well aware of the concept of human-wildlife conflict, but that was the first time I was hearing about man-bear interaction. The local Gond community that depended on the forest for non-forest timber produce like mahua flowers and tendu fruit often came face to face with sloth bears. The reason is, during the summer season, the locals would go to the forest at dusk or dawn to collect these items to avoid harsh heat. Unfortunately, sloth bears also preferred that time of the day to venture out for food. Summer, also being the bears’ mating season, often made the bear aggressive, though they are not territorial by nature.

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Flappy gait, shabby fur, grunts followed by the clanking of chains and the sound of a whip. The rattling dumroo meant it was time for the animals to perform tricks for the onlookers. As they dance to the beats of the dumroo, they wince every time their handlers pull at the rope that goes through…

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