A day after a team of forest and police officials shot dead a female sloth bear that allegedly mauled to death a forester and two others, tribals of villages in Banaskantha’s Balaram-Ambaji Wildlife Sanctuary on Thursday expressed shock over the entire episode, saying they have not experienced such aggressive behaviour by animals of this species in the past.
“Sloth bears often come of our village, but reports of them attacking humans are unusual. They run away when shooed. But, after a slot bear killed our two men we are terrified,” said Gena Angari, a resident of Khapra village.
Dominated by tribals, Khapra is located inside the sanctuary. It falls in Amirgadh taluka of the district. Beyond a hill, locally called Gunero Ghato or big mountain, is located Kansa, another tribal village in Danta taluka of the district.
It all started Sunday evening when one Bhikha Bhagora (35), who had taken 15 goats out for grazing inside the protected forest, did not return home even as the heard came back on its own. Villagers said he had taken the heard to a forested area known as Vadlavalu Pani (water near banyan tree) near Kansa village on the other side of Gunero Ghato. “We sensed something was amiss, but were too scared to go inside forest at night,” said Bharma Bhagora, Bhikha’s cousin.
Besides 59 sloth bears, a vulnerable species, the Sanctuary is home to other carnivores like leopards and stripped hyenas.
On Monday morning, villagers formed teams to search for Bhikha. “We formed search parties, each comprising four men. One team found the bear sitting on Bhikha’s body in Vadlavalu Pani. But soon, the bear pounced on them,” said Gena.
In the attack, Rama Angari and Kala Parmar were injured, while Mana Angari (25) was killed. “The bear charged towards Rama and Parmar tried to rescue him, but the animal attacked him too. Eventually, Mana diverted the bear’s attention from Parmar and also climbed up a small Timaru tree. The bear started climbing the tree, which came crashing down. The bear grabbed his head and killed him on the spot,” said Babu Angari, Mana’s elder brother.
Babu said that Ladu Parmar, who was part of the four member team, told him the sequence of the event. “Eventually, Ladu started pelting stones at the bear and as other teams rushed towards the scene after hearing cries. The animal vanished in bushes,” said Babu.
The scared tribals set fire in Vadlavalu Pani area to keep the bear away, even as the bodies remained there. After being informed about the incident, a team of forest guards went inside the forest to douse the fire.
“The guards and foresters were unarmed, and while they were dousing fire, the bear attacked them. Forester Raydhan Pattani was killed, while guards Bharat Chaudhary, U B Bloch and Navaji Rabari were injured,” said Indrasinh Barad, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Banaskantha division.
On Wednesday morning, after the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) and chief wildlife warden of Gujarat issued an order, a team of around 80 forest guards, veterinarians and local police went to Vadlavalu Pani to capture the bear. “The team shot a tranquiler dart after locating the bear, but it missed the target. Before another dart could be shot, the bear charged towards the team. The team had to open fire on the animal in self-defence,” said Barad. The team fired as many as 67 rounds from AK 47 rifles to kill the bear. DCF Barad said that the villagers have identified the dead bear as the one that attacked the three men.
Residents of Kansa also came to know about the incidents on Monday and said they were scared. “Nobody is willing to go to their small farms for work since Tuesday. Such attack was unheard of in our area,” said Baka Gamar, a resident of Kansa.