Himalayan bear killed by tiger
Is it effect of climate change on habitat?
11 November, 2009 – In the first recorded incident of its kind in Bhutan, a Himalayan black bear was killed and eaten by a royal Bengal tiger in the Jigme Dorji national park.
The carcass of the bear, with only its head, skin and paws remaining, was discovered by a team of foresters in Domenda, two days walk from Dodena in Thimphu, on November 7 at an altitude of 4,079 m. The kill has thrown up several questions on tigers being found at such high altitudes in winter, the relationship between bears and tigers in Bhutan’s wild and the implications of the tiger’s presence on the snow leopard habitat.
“It’s a confirmed kill by a royal Bengal tiger, since there are canine puncture marks on the bear’s throat and spine, as well as tiger claw marks lacerating the bears face and tiger pug marks in the area,” said Phub Tshering, the JDNP park beat officer, who discovered the carcass. He said that there were also signs of struggle between the bear and the tiger with rhododendrons bushes uprooted and claw marks on trees.
“Usually the Himalayan black bear is a powerful foe for any tiger and they avoid each other, but here the bear seems to be a juvenile at 2-3 years and hence did not have the muscle and fighting abilities it gets by the time it reaches its adult age of 5 years,” said Dr Sonam Wangyel, the chief forestry officer and wildlife biologist. He said that it was likely that the two animals met accidentally.
Phub Tshering said that some people, who were on tsam in the area, said that they had seen the same bear feeding on berries in late October. They also noticed tiger pug marks in the same area.
“We have, for the last three years, started noting multiple signs of the presence of tigers in such high altitude areas, ” said Phub Tshering.
Dr Sonam Wangyel said that, though there was no conclusive proof, it is possible that due to climate change the tree line was being pushed higher giving cover to the tiger. “This may also be due to shrinking and disturbed habitat at lower altitudes and hence the mountains may be the only undisturbed areas for the tiger,” he said. However, the real impact of tigers moving higher could be on the snow leopard, whose own snowline habitat could be shrinking. He said that clear scientific evidence was needed to establish the above hypothesis.
The incident has also given a peek into the relationship between the Himalayan black bear and the royal Bengal tiger.
In a camera trap set up in Nabji in 2006, it was found that a bull killed by a tiger was also being fed on by a bear at alternate intervals. “One day, the bear took away the whole carcass and the camera captured a bewildered look on the face of the tiger when it came back to feed again. The bear could be benefiting from the tigers kills,” said Dr Sonam.
He said in the wild carnivores would try to eliminate competition and the bear killed may have been a potential competitor. “Though it happens, this is rare incident since the tiger usually goes after smaller, less aggressive and weaker prey,” he said.
He also said that it was possible that tigers would be coming to these heights to cross into other valleys and that more of them were being detected due to better detection devices.
Old data show that around 115-150 tigers are found in Bhutan on the basis of sightings.