The bear in hiding during the chase. Picture by Prabin Khaling
Gangtok, Nov. 3: A bear strayed into the Sikkim capital this morning and mauled two top wildlife officials during a hide-and-seek played out over six hours.
Forest department joint director J.B. Subba had taken a few steps towards the animal after it appeared to have fallen asleep under the effect of tranquillisers when it woke up with a start and darted towards him.
It had caught hold of the official when a stone hurled in desperation by a police officer distracted it and he managed to break free. The bear’s flailing claws struck Subba a mighty blow on the face.
Divisional forest officer B.B. Gurung was clawed on the leg while vet Sonam Tshering dislocated his right arm in a fall. An official said they were likely to be flown to Siliguri for treatment tomorrow.
Eight darts were shot at the Himalayan black bear during the six-hour chase-and-confrontation before it fell into a drain. However, forest officials took no risks and shot two more before the animal, “most endangered” under the Wildlife Protection Act, was caged and taken to a zoo.
Pema Zangmo Bhutia first saw it when she woke up to the clucking of chickens outside her home, barely 500 metres from the East Sikkim administrative complex. “I saw the bear in a field and alerted my husband. He called up the forest department. Many people had seen the bear here in the past three days,” she said.
Over 20 forest department officials cordoned off the area with police help in about an hour.
Foresters said three darts were shot initially and the “enraged” animal ran into a bamboo thicket. “Around noon, when we thought the bear had fallen asleep, the forest officers tried to get closer and that is when it struck. Subba would have been killed had it not been for sub-inspector Samir Pradhan,” a resident said.
A forest official said it was unlikely that all 10 darts had hit their target, a sure-footed 90kg animal sneaking in and out of thickets.
The chief wildlife warden had decided to shoot the bear dead if it attacked more people. However, it fell unconscious before doing any further harm.
It was taken to the Himalayan Zoological Park around 1.30pm.
This is not the first time a bear has strayed into Gangtok from the adjoining Rateychu forest. “In 1998, a bear was found in a toilet of the Sikkim Time Corporation office. Another had to be chased away from the Assembly compound,” a forester recalled. “But this is the first time human beings were attacked.”
Forest officials said bear attacks took place in many parts of Sikkim. Last month, the headmaster of a high school in Dentam, about 100km from Gangtok, had a portion of his thigh clawed away. In January last year, forest officials shot dead a bear because it had made a habit of killing cattle.
Dry winter months and the resulting lack of food in forests drive bears towards human habitation, a forest officer said.