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Barefoot soldiers conserving the bear habitat

By Samad Kottur

In 2006, Wildlife SOS intiated a project that would conserve bear habitat in the area of karnataka near Ramdurga. This unique habitat was chosen because of its value to protecting sloth bears. It is ideal because the rocky boulders and a scrub jungle that spreads on undulating hill ranges provide shelter and food for the bears. 

At the time Wildlife SOS purchased the land, the entire habitat was being exploited by surrounding villagers. Quarrying, wood cutting, hunting, encroachment of the forest and forest fires were common here. This was turning the excellent bear habitat into a degraded jungle. Due to deforestation, rain became scant, rivulets and streams remained dry throughout the year, the underground water table was depleted and the tube wells became dry. The end result was an increase in conflicts between people and bears as the animals began venturing into the villages. 

When the project first launched, six local guards were appointed under a supervisor to patrol and survey the entire bear habitat that spread over 40 km. Those on patrol were assigned tasks to prevent forest fires, stone quarries, hunting, wood cutting and encroachment. Initially there was resistance. However, the villagers gradually got accustomed to the stringent measures being enforced by the guards and they stopped all activity that was disturbing the land. 

In addition to the patrols, Wildlife SOS conducted awareness programs in the schools of surrounding villages and worked with village leaders to help them understand and value the program. After 6 years, the hard work paid off and the program has become a successful conservation model. If you see the habitat today you will see that the entire valley has become lush green. Fruit trees are now sprouting from old stumps and the bears once again are feeding on them. The underground water table has increased and this has helped the local farmers. The water now flows in the once dry streams for more than 9 months of the year. All the villagers around the habitat are happy and praise Wildlife SOS for the replenishment of their ground water table. There are fewer conflicts between people and bears. 

This project has accomplished a lot to help bears in just 6 years, we can still do more, but we need your help. Please write us if you are interested in helping with this conservation project.