E-Pao! Opinion - Reprieve from a Himalayan Black Bear

Reprieve from a Himalayan Black Bear

KJ Singh *

The existence of thick virgin forests in the north-eastern part of Ukhrul District (Khayang and Kachaophung areas) bordering Myanmar and reported abundance of many a rare fauna in them were the reasons for a group including staff members, Kachaophung village headman and me to undertake a trip to the areas in February, 2006.

It also required very high physical fitness and firm determination for all of us to reach the areas on foot climbing up and down many steep slopes for two days from the last motorable point at Sahamphung. After an arduous journey, we reached Khayang Phungcham village.

Our arrival coincided with the celebration of Luira Phanit (seed sowing festival) in the village. We exchanged pleasantries with the villagers in the course of which I met Mr Ngatangmi also. He is about 45 years old and of light built but wore a visor over the right eye.

And I found out that a few yeas ago; hunting was his passionate affair and lucrative occupation too. Now he has resigned to his fate and does not undertake hunting expeditions anymore.

He had a tryst with luck in November, 1998 during a hunting expedition. One fine morning, he left his village heading towards the forests in the nearby Myanmar border as a leader of a hunting troupe comprising 4-5 hunters.

The troupe was one of the permanent hunting troupes in the village. On reaching the hunting areas in the forests, the hunters scattered themselves in all the possible sides for hunting. Mr Ngatangmi alone trekked into the uncharted forests for about 3-4 hours with a hunting gun (SBBL).

Though there are distinct topographical features delineating the different village boundaries, hunters from a village encroach upon the territory of another village and continue hunting.

As providence would have it, he confronted a group of three Himalayan Black Bears. They didn’t move and looked at him. Fearlessly, he moved towards them and aimed his gun for the biggest one. From a distance of about 5-6 m, he fired.

The animal got hit, then groaned and fell down before remaining motionless. Seeing this and before Mr Ngatangmi could fire another shot at them, the other two bears took to their heels, disappearing from the scene and into the thick vegetation.

After waiting for a while and thinking that the shot bear was dying for good, he lowered his gun and went near the motionless animal. But suddenly the bear got up, staggered and charged at Mr Ngatangmi. Before he could react, the bear pounced upon him. He knew the animal was injured from the gunshot. But both man and animal wrestled and fought for their own lives.

And before long, a swipe from the paw of the animal was good enough to knock down Mr Ngatangmi flat to the forest floor. He managed to get up only to find blood spurting out of his right eye. He was dazed and could see hardly anything with it.

The bear was also not in an unrelenting mood and attacked him again from behind. It was ‘do or die’ hand battle for both of them with man about to become the vanquished. But suddenly the animal broke loose and scurried away.

However, he soon realized that the animal had inflicted injuries also on his abdomen with its long nails. Blood was spurting out from his right eye and belly injuries. Grievously hurt, he lay unconscious.

Luckily his friends heard the gunshot and came to the area to find him. They knew that the injuries sustained by their leader were caused by bear. Finding that the bear had by then vanished from the scene and there was urgency to save his life, his friends brought him to the village and he was given crude first -aid treatment.

Later on and with much difficulty involving arduous journey on foot for two days, he was taken to the hospital in Ukhrul District HQ. There the injuries were treated with su-ccess but very little could be done to restore the vision of the right eye. He had to wear a visor over it.

Recounting the incident further, Mr Ngatangmi still is baffled as to why the bear spared his life. Was not his gunshot fatal? It is not known whether the animal lived long enough to narrate to his cohort about the attempt on his life, how man could be so cruel to them; or warned to be cautious against the evil design of man to hunt/ kill them.

And it is also not understood whether he is still roaming in the forests fully recovered and avoiding revenge to other hunters. As for Mr. Ngatangmi, he wanted to take on the animal if alive and kill it. But on being told that it was because of hunting the innocent animals, he got injured and there is nothing to feel vindictive about it, he kept silent.

Deep at heart, he must also be a good man compelled to hunt for eking out a living and in so doing, face such trying circumstances deep in the forests and far from villages where poor socio-economic conditions had been prevailing for long. At present, he is worried about the failing eyesight of the left eye.

And he knows that unless treated well soon, eyesight complications may lead to complete loss of vision. But there are financial challenges which do not allow him to undertake further treatment in a reputed eye hospital or from a specialist. He hopes for the best, the only thing he can do at the moment.

Ngatangmi disclosed that bears hunted and killed in April/May yield 60 to 70 bottles (750 ml) of fat which also finds market apart from the bile. During this time of the year, Bauhinia racemosa (Chingthrao angouba) trees are in full bloom wherever they grow in the forests and Tangkhul legend has it that bears praise the beauty of the Bauhinia flowers resplendent in their colours.

The animals come to stay near the trees perhaps enamoured by the flowering. This habit also provides an easy task to hunters to waylay the unsuspecting animals.

It could also be learnt that bear biles collected from this part of Ukhrul district during Oct-Nov command very high market prices even in Imphal. One Tola (11 gm approx.) of Bear bile fet-ches Rs 2,000 and a full-grown bear gives 24 Tolas of bile.

There are four qualities of bile commanding different market prices (white, yellow, red and black colour) depending on the season of collection. Most of the hunters do not know which colour commands the highest price and how much do the intermediaries, brokers get from the animal products before they ultimately reach international market.

Nevertheless there is every reason to believe that illegal trade of bear bile could be a flourishing business in Manipur. An effective step to control the hunting or killing of bears would be by way of ensuring sustainable livelihood initiatives for all the poor people/hunters in the area including Mr Ngatangmi as soon as possible.

The activities of poor people in the form of hunting, trapping, killing of bears and other rare fauna need to be ended through bio-diversity conservation works with adequate funding in this part of district.

If the processes of participatory planning, implementation and devising a transparent monitoring mechanism for the same are taken up promptly, it will benefit all the stakeholders.

* KJ Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express . This article was webcasted on 03rd August , 2007.

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