Giant Bears of Deosai
Ahmer Ali Rizvi
Hunters and poachers pose constant threat to Himalayan Brown
Bears, the largest animal on Deosai plateau.
or "Dev Vasai" - the Land of Giant, is a vast plateau beyond
the mountains of Kashmir in Himalayan range. The highland was named for
a famous legend described by the Gujjars, who used to spend summer here
and rest of the seasons in Himalayan foothills. They believe in a fable
according to which centuries ago there was a "Giant", who
lived there all the year round and grow all the crops he needed for
himself on this widespread land.
this terrain is yet said to be the land of the giant. Not possessed by
that legendary creature but by the giant "Brown Bears". Yes,
the Deosai plateau is an imperative abode for the Himalayan Brown Bears.
This flat terrain is as high as 13,500 feet above the sea level,
situated 35 km south of Skardu. It's a huge and high meadow of rolling
mounds and grass with a numerous dens and burrows offering an ideal
habitat for grazing animals. The total area of Deosai plain is about
3,000 sq km.
Bear belongs to the widest range of any specie of bear in the world. It
is found in abundance in Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Kodiak Island in
North America. Alaskan and Kodiak genus are the largest of its family
with an average weight of 300 kg. Smaller populations are found in
Canada, eastern and western Europe and northern Asia.
Brown bear varies in size but generally appears larger than all other
wild animal species in the region. Heaviest specimen recorded as 160 kg
the Himalayan Brown Bear is comparatively smaller than
Alaskan bear, but no doubt, it is the largest animal on Deosai plateau.
Its colour varies from dark reddish brown to light sandy shades. In
physique, Brown Bear is characterized by a distinctive hump on its
shoulders, a slightly dished profile to the face and long claws on the
Bear generally occupy a wide range of habitats including dense forests,
sub-alpine mountain areas and tundra. In Pakistan, it is restricted to
alpine meadow and sub-alpine scrub zones. Some bears have also been
spotted in Panma and Biafo Glaciers, whereas a very few Brown Bears are
suspected in Chitral, Khunjerab National Park - Gilgit and Neelam
Valley, Azad Kashmir.
Bear mainly eats vegetation such as grass, sedge, bulbs and roots. It
also eats rodents such as rats, dormice, ground squirrels, hedgehogs,
marmots and fishes. In some incidences, Brown Bear in Deosai has been
found killing domestic goats and sheep.
interesting thing about a bear is its "Winter Dormancy". In
early days of winter when snow starts covering grassland and weather
becomes harsh, Brown Bear holds back grazing and other activities in
open areas and enters den to spend whole winter. It usually hibernates
for five to seven months from November to April. During this, its body
temperature, heartbeat and other metabolic rates are reduced. Its
requirement for food and water is also eliminated. At the onset of
summer, it wakes up and comes out of den in search of food again. Some
scientists believe that Brown Bear does not hibernate completely as
other animals, which live in cold climates, do.
most circumstances, Brown Bear is found lonely when wandering or grazing
in grassland. However, female is usually accompanied by its cubs. During
the breeding season, a male is used to be associated with a female only
for two weeks. Mating takes place from early May to the middle of July,
while the baby bears usually come into the world from the months of
January to March.
Bear in Deosai is a slow moving and breeding animal as compared to its
cousins in other parts of the world. In other regions, the litter size
is generally one to three and a female usually breeds every three years.
But in case of Himalayan bears of Deosai, the litter is limited to just
one or two every three to four years. The reason is itself the low
population of male animals to make a perfect pair over and over again.
Furthermore there are several climatic constraints. For example, being
situated at an extraordinary height, there is insufficient oxygen to
breathe, which is required adequately for a healthy breeding female.
There are many other obstacles from the atmosphere like scarcity of food
during snowfalls. Though average life of a Brown Bear is 30 years but in
Deosai very few bears survive beyond the age of 20.
also a continuous threat to bear population in all locales of its
existence due to the poaching of young cubs. These little bears are
captured by gypsy tribes who tame and train them for dancing and circus
shows. Since the female is closely attached and very watchful to its
cubs, poachers kill the mother first making the young ones easy to
threat to Brown Bear is from the hunters for its skin, fats and other
body organs. Hunting is usually carried out by the local villagers. Some
local quacks believe that its fats and some other parts enhance
virility. There is no reality in these thoughts, yet they do misguide
people inadvertently or deliberately in order to make money. Sale of
bear's skin and other organs is an established and organized business in
northern areas. Professional hunters usually kill adult male Brown Bear
and transport its parts to the local markets of Gilgit and Skardu. These
practices have been continuing for a long time. Consequently, the Brown
Bear's population has declined to the alarming limits.
the last decade, a few but effective measures have been taken for the
survival of Brown Bear in the region. In 1993, Himalayan Wildlife
Project was founded with a substantial financial support from
international environmental concerns. The idea was to protect this
vulnerable specie from total dearth. A team of five persons visited
Deosai plateau in July 93 and camped there for two months. The purpose
was to study and evaluate the status of Brown Bear. After a thorough
survey and monitoring, they estimated a total population of only 19
bears of both sexes in the area. They also collected basic information
about its feeding habits, routine movements and breeding biology. This
was a landmark towards the protection of this wonderful creature.
same year, the administration of northern area designated Deosai a
National Park, through which hunting, poaching, mining or any act of
destruction to wildlife within the area becomes a legal offense. Some
wildlife check-posts have also been established in Sadpara - Skardu,
Chilam and Godai - Astore valley, in order to keep an eye on poachers
and hunters. The credit of these achievements goes to the Himalayan
Wildlife Project teams who not only recommended but also forced all
these measures to be taken to protect Brown Bear in the region.
subsequent years, several educational programs have also been conducted
for local villagers in order to make them aware of the importance of
healthy wildlife and environment. Proper census as well as detailed
observation of the Brown Bears on scientific basis is being conducted
every year during July to October. For the first time in Pakistan, radio
transmitters have been used to monitor the movement of bears in its
environs. Brown Bears are tranquilized carefully and collared with
sophisticated radio transmitters. Since 1996 a total of seven adult
bears have been collared with transmitters and are being observed by
Himalayan Wildlife Project team.
the population of Brown Bear in Deosai has increased to 30-35 animals
with a mix of few little cubs. The population growth has been very slow
over the period of 8-9 years but there is still a hope for these cubs to
multiply over next 5-10 years.
Bear is still under threat of extinction in its inimitable colony.
Unfortunately, hunting is still done and poaching of cubs is also
carried out, but there is a marked decline in these ruthless practices
over the past few years. The other climatic threats to the Bear
population are always there and are unavoidable. But the side-by-side
efforts taken to protect Brown Bear and educational programs are the
lasting hopes for this beautiful animal to survive and the Deosai to
remain the land of giants.
Wildlife of Pakistan-All Rights