Status assessment of Human-Asiatic black bear conflict in its westernmost global distribution, Hormozgan Province, Southern Iran
The Asiatic Black Bear Ursus thibetanus (ABB) is one of the eight bear species of the world that only exist in the Asia. Hormozgan Province in the Southern Iran is the westernmost global extent of this species. ABB is listed as "Vulnerable" in the IUCN Red list but Baluchistan black bear U. t. gedrosianus, which is scattered only in Iran and Pakistan, is considered as "Critically Endangered".
Killing bear due to conflict with human, habitat destruction and live-capturing cubs are the main threats of ABB in Iran and the Iranian Department of Environment has considered this rare species as an "Endangered species". Despite patchy distribution in low productive landscapes and several human-induced threats, its conservation has been largely overlooked.
This project, for the first time, has assessed the status of Human-Asiatic black bear conflicts (HBC) in the Hormozgan Province. Survey on type and size of the conflict in all distribution range and finding solutions for reduction of HBC is the main goal of this study. Despite severe field conditions, remoteness and sometimes insecure regions; camera-trapping, scat analysis and interview survey with local people, were among the activities of this project.
Through field survey and camera trapping, we obtained invaluable information on distribution and habitat of ABB in Hormozgan Province and its corridors. Also, we discovered new habitats in the North and Central Hormozgan, which even increases the westernmost distribution range of this species for the first time. Mountainous areas and valleys with scattered fruit trees (wild or planted), especially in the Eastern part of the province is the main habitat for the Asiatic black bear, ranging from lowlands (<400 m) up to high elevations (<1870 m). Several pictures and short videos have been taken by camera traps, which demonstrate us unknown parts of the ABB life cycle, such as diurnal activity, mating season and denning behavior. Also coexisting species have been identified such as Persian leopard Panthera pardus, Urial sheep Ovis vignei and wild goat Capra aegagrus.
Based on the interview survey with local people (n=35), two kinds of conflict exist in the study area; depredation on livestock (goat, sheep and rarely cow) and the use of cultivated fruits (date palm, apple, grape and watermelon). Although raiding orchards and farms, especially date palm are in large scale, but depredation on livestock is the main cause of conflict and negative attitude of local people toward carnivores.
We identified 26 food items, including 15 plants, 5 vertebrate, 3 invertebrate and 3 others (Garbage and wax) through microscopic analysis of collected scats. Cultivated fruits, wild fruits and invertebrates were the most frequently observed food items. The most common foods were date palm (55% of scats), wasps (27.5%) and fruits of Jujube tree (Ziziphus spina-christi; 20%). The date palm plantation is the main agricultural crop in the Hormozgan Province, and also obviously plays a very important role as a staple food for the bears. But in recent years, due to reduced financial value of the date palm among local people and lack of transportation and packaging facilities, palm groves have been abandoned, which provides suitable and hassle-free food for the bears. Additionally, Jujube fruit is especially important for the bears due to its fruiting twice a year in the Southern Iran, as a result of the climatic conditions of the region. Only a small portion of the bear diet (3%) is consisted of livestock, but the killing of livestock by bears causes the more serious conflict with humans, which often results in bears being killed by the local people, attempting to prevent the further damage.
After field surveys, Roudan and Bashagard Counties were identified as the high-conflict areas. Several workshops were held with the local chiefs and people in these areas. Depredation on livestock is the main cause of the HBC and primitive systems of animal husbandry (without shepherd and shepherd dog in the ABB habitat and poor corralling structures) is the main cause. Based on our surveys and collaboration with the local communities, awareness-raising, education and direct compensation schemes were selected as the Human-focused and physical barriers, electric fences and habitat management as the Bear-focused methods for reduction of the conflict. Changing from traditional animal husbandry to more efficient methods seems to be necessary for reduction of the conflict. These approaches in addition to restoration of pastures are the most profitable actions for the local people. Restoration of destroyed habitats and plantation of forest trees are among the activities that can be done for reduction of conflict in the future.
Finally, the first reserve for conservation of ABB in Hormozgan Province has been proposed. There is a need for a multi-faceted approach in order to conserve carnivores in human-dominated landscapes, particularly with conflict on limited resources and high poverty rate.
Project 12251980 location - Iran, Asia