Once upon a time (this is not really a fairy story) Kashmir was one of the great places to visit. During the era of the British Raj it was a major tourist destination and for the avid fisherman the state offered some of the very best fishing in the world. It has been assort of pipe-dream for me to dip a line in those waters, but for twenty or more years it has been no more than a pipe-dream as Kashmir is also the core of the long-standing border dispute between India and Pakistan.
There is one possible benefit to the near-war status of the region where it is estimated that since the 1989 full-blown rebellion against Indian rule blew up over 47,000 people have been killed. Hunters and poachers have hardly dared to set foot in the region.
If two recent reports are anything to go by wildlife in general and Himalayan black bears in particular may have had some measure of protection.
In a Reuters report of Nov 17th by Sheikh Mushtaq that you can find here it seems as if several wildlife species have shown marked increases in population size. Mushtaq quotes Kashmir's wildlife warden, Rashid Naqash as stating that
“Rare birds like the black partridge and pheasant have increased in thousands while more Asiatic black bear, leopards, musk deer and hangul, a rare red deer, now roam the disputed Himalayan region's pine forests.”Most spectacular is the claim that the population of black bears has jumped from 700-800 to something over 2,500 in twenty years. This would mean that the population has increased by 7% a year.
A more focused report available here comes from Yahoo news and also quotes Rashid Naqash. In this case he is reported to have said that only 300 of the bears inhabit the region. He also told the reporter that three bears have been fitted with GPS collars and that three more are to be collared soon.
"This is the first time in India that Himalayan black bears have been fitted with a GPS collar."
Naqash is also quoted as saying that the collars could also help prevent bear attacks in the region, which are certainly a serious threat to the local villagers. Wild bears have killed more than two dozen people in the past four years and left 150 injured. For those who love nature stories told with the utmost skill this account is very reminiscent of the wonderful stories of naturalist Jim Corbett. If you don’t know them, try & find one such as Maneaters of Kumaon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man-Eaters_of_Kumaon) and give it a read. I was hooked at once and have all his writings.
Naqash also made a claim that seems to be more hope than reality when he stated
"We can always monitor their movements and sound an alert once they start moving towards the human habitations."While three, or even six bears may be monitored, what about the 294 others or, if
Mushtaq’s numbers are to be believed it would be another 2494!
Something seems to smack of the fairy story element, or maybe the editors have made a mess of what would seem to be an encouraging report.