GANGTOK, November 3: An unruly mob, ineffective tranquilizers and unimaginative containment measures severely handicapped the brave forest and police officials in a near disastrous mission to capture a wandering Himalayan Black Bear at Upper Sichey near East District Administrative complex today that took a senior forest official and a DFO to the brink of death before a heroic cop firmly stood his ground to save the day.
Forest joint director JB Subba, DFO (East) BB Gurung and Himalayan Zoological Park medic assistant Sonam Tshering Lepcha sustained deep injuries during the mauling by the rampaging fully grown bear at the bamboo thicket above the road near the administrative complex.
It is a miracle that there were no casualties not from the claws of the bear but from the stampede of the crowd on three occasions.
The whole incident began early morning when Mrs Pema Zangpo Gurung spotted the animal at around 7 am in her small field at Sateybari, Upper Sichey. It was her husband who recognized the animal as a bear and he immediately alerted the local police and forest staff.
The bear had strayed into the suburb during the night hours in search of food and apparently camped at the field.
Once informed, the local police and forest staff reached the spot led by Chief Wildlife Warden NT Bhutia and CCF (Wildlife) HP Pradhan. The area was cordoned off and a trap was laid even as the bear lay hidden in the field.
At around 10:30, the first tranquilizer was pumped into the bear through a draft fired from a rifle. By then, the whole area was surrounded by curious onlookers whose numbers grew in strength despite repeated requests them to vacate the area.
At 11: 12 am, two tranquilizers were shot into the bear from the rooftop of a nearby building.
Instead of having a debilitating effect, the shots seemed to have injected a fresh bout of energy into the bear that jumped out of the field with a roar, bypassed the trap and somehow managed to reach to the upper road and wilted away into the bamboo thicket even as the crowds went helter-skelter with terror.
By this time, additional forces from the Sadar police station led by PI Tshering Sherpa and more forest officials arrived at the scene where the bear was cornered.
SP (East) Dr MS Tuli was also present at the spot to supervise the capture mission.
Despite poor visibility, two more tranquilizers from the rifle and one from a pistol seemed to have shown its desired effect on the bear. Close observations gave a false sense of security to the people and the authorities leading to the signal given for the cage to be hauled up to the spot.
Then at 12:30, disaster struck as the bear roared back to life and in lightening speed jumped on those nearby.
Joint director JB Subba was the first victim as the bear mauled him and took him down rolling. DFO (Territorial, East) BB Gurung tried to come to the rescue and a chunk of meat from his left thigh was clawed out when the bear lashed on him.
Himalayan Zoological Park medic assistant Sonam Tshering Lepcha dislocated his left arm when pulled down by the bear. All happened in seconds and if the mauling was allowed to prolong a few seconds more, then there would have been causalities.
Fortunately, Sadar Police station SI Sameer Pradhan displayed great courage as he stood his ground and counterattacked the bear with whatever he could lay his hands on. His courage caused the bear to flee in the opposite direction giving enough time for those being mauled to scamper to safety.
Blood tearing down his face, Subba was immediately rushed to the STNM hospital followed by the other two victims.
The horrific incident shook all with questions abounding over the effectiveness of the tranquilizers. A couple of more tranquilizers were shot into the bear that finally slumbered into a state of unconsciousness even as a standing order to terminate the bear had been issued by the Chief Wildlife Warden.
The bear was hauled into the cage and into the forest vehicle at 1:20 am ending a six hour long standoff. The bear was whisked away to the Himalayan Zoological Park where it will put under observation for some time, forest officials said.
The bear could have probably slipped into the urban areas in search of food from the nearby Rateychu Reserve Forest, it is suspected.
Despite the threat posed by the huge bear to the human lives, the forest and police officials took great precaution and risked their lives to safely capture the Himalayan Black Bear, a highly endangered wildlife species listed in the Schedule I of the Protection of Wildlife Act.
Meanwhile, the injured Subba has been airlifted to Siliguri for further medical treatment while the DFO and the medic assistant are being treated here in Gangtok.
At the same time, questions have crept over the reasons for the increasing wanderings of wild animals into human habitats. The Upper Sichey bear is reported to have been wandering in and around the area up to Arithang for the past one week. The animal was in search of food and as forest officials point out, the increasing loss of their food items from the jungles have forced these animals to come into conflict with humans.
Recently, a bear had jumped on a group of farmers and clawed away a chunk of meat from the leg of a 42 year headmaster at Sangshu, Dentam in West Sikkim yesterday.