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Population Status and Distribution of Himalayan Brown Bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) in Musk Deer National Park Neelum, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (Pakistan).

Introduction

The brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) is distributed in most of the Europe, Asia, North America, Middle East, and some parts of North Africa (Swenson et al., 2000; Servheen et al, 1999). In Asia, brown bear founds along Himalayas (from Pakistan to Bhutan), Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran, Central Asian mountains, Mongolia to Russia, and northern China, (Fig. 1) (Nawaz, 2007; Sathyakumar, 2001). Himalayan brown bears distributed in Jammu and Kashmir, northern Indian states including Uttaranchal and Himachal Pradesh (Sathyakumar, 2006), while in China, poorly defined populations are scattered in the northeast and west regions (Gong and Harris, 2006). Comparatively, Japan has a dense population though reliable data are lacking (Mano, 2006). In Pakistan, brown bear found in 7 healthy populations in the mountain ranges of Himalaya, Karakoram, and Hindu Kush including Gilgit Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) (Nawaz, 2007). Bear population confined in patchy distribution in alpine meadows and sub-alpine zone of Deosai Plateau, Khunjrab National Park, Nanga Parbat, and Astore (Virk et al., 2003), nevertheless in western Himalaya, only Deosai Plateau has the stable population (Nawaz, 2007). In KPK, this species is distributed in the Kalam (Kohistan), Pallas Valley (Indus Kohistan) Kaghan Valley, and Chitral (Nawaz, 2007; Akbar, 2003; Arshad, 2003; Roberts, 1997).

In Azad Kashmir, brown bear is restricted to northern region including Machiara National Park, Gumote National Park, Shonther Valley, and Kel areas (Nawaz, 2007; Iftikhar, 2006). The Gurez Valley, mainly Musk Deer National Park, has good habitat conditions and likewise dense bear population (Nawaz, 2007). Besides Neelum Valley, they may also be found in the Leepa Valley (Jhelum Valley) and Haji Pir (district Bagh) areas (Iftikhar, 2006). Although, there is a large area with a potential habitat in Neelum Valley, but brown bears are restricted in certain pockets of the Valley, mainly in protected areas. Hunting pressure (Qamar et al., 2005), conflict with humans, habitat fragmentation (Nielsen et al., 2006; 2004) are important forces that reduce the bear population and thus distribution.

Various protected areas are established around the world that aim to support a viable population of brown bears, but only some of them are large enough to achieve this goal. Therefore, brown bear conservation must be integrated with many other human land-uses (Nielsen et al., 2006; Can and Togan, 2004; Herrero, 1994). Various countries established management guidelines intended to decrease human impacts on brown bears and their habitat, however many countries have limited or no bear management protocols and regulations (Zedrosser et al., 2001; Servheen et al., 1999). In Himalayan region, brown bear exist in low densities, their potential habitat range in India is estimated at 4,300 [km.sup.2] and very little of this range is protected (Sathyakumar, 2001).

Although, brown bears are globally considered as Least Concerned (McLellan et al., 2008), however, they face many threats in Pakistan which cause its population to decline continuously and considered as 'endangered' (Sheikh and Molur, 2004). The largest population in Pakistan is estimated at 43 individuals existed in Deosai National Park, other six populations have less than 20 bears separately (Nawaz, 2007). A total of 20-25 bears were estimated in the north-eastern part of Neelum Valley (Nawaz, 2007), which is connected to Deosai National Park via Dudgai Top.

Main threats to the brown bear are increase in human population and thus increase in livestock, fuel wood and ethno-plant extraction, illegal trade of pelt and fat ofbear, and climate change (Nawaz, 2007; Sheikh and Molur, 2004). Present study was designed to investigate the current status and distribution of brown bear in Musk Deer National Park (upper Neelum Valley) of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan.

Materials and Methods

Study area: Musk Deer National Park (MDNP) is situated in the extreme northern part of AJ&K (upper Neelum Valley) about 155 km away from Muzaffarabad. The area of Gurez Valley was declared as Musk Deer National Park in 2007 covering an area of 528.16 [km.sup.2] (Sharda Forest Division) from Macchal to Kamri top. The park is bounded to the east and north east by occupied Kashmir through Line of Control (LoC) to the west and north west by Gilgit Baltistan (GB). Study area is geographically linked with Deosai National Park in GB (Fig. 1). Study area was divided in three zones i.e. Phulawai, Sardari and Loser based on geographic division in sub-valleys. Study zone Phulawai was further divided in study localities including Doga (34[degrees] 48.70N, 74[degrees] 29.16E), Saonarr (34[degrees] 46.59N, 74[degrees] 36.85E) and Hanthi (34[degrees] 47.46N, 74[degrees] 29.12E). Sardari zone, was sub-divided in three localities, Helmet (34[degrees] 45.86N, 74[degrees] 31.75E), Taobut (34[degrees] 43.27N, 74[degrees] 53.27E) and Karimabad (34[degrees] 44.21N, 74[degrees] 55.49E), while Loser zone has four study localities such as Gagai (34[degrees] 43.58N, 74[degrees] 52.26E), Rata Pani (34[degrees] 43.29N, 74[degrees] 56.49E), Dudhegai (34[degrees] 42.69N, 74[degrees] 46.95E) and Qamri (34[degrees] 40.66N, 74[degrees] 50.12E) (Fig. 1).

The study was conducted in MDNP, Gurez Valley, District Neelum, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) from April 2011 to December 2012. Line transect walks of varying length and width were carried out in 22 stands covering about 28.75 [km.sup.2] area following Nawaz (2007) to gather data on distribution and population status of brown bear. 2-3 members of survey team traversed area parallel to each other by keeping a distance of 10 to 100 m apart, depending upon the terrain of the study area. Length of transect was measured using Garmin etrex (30x) GPS device, while average width was measured using Laser Range Finder Monocular Scan (TAC Vactor Optics; 8 x 30; 1200 m). Population in a particular locality was estimated through measuring direct signs (fecal dropping, foot print, food remains, and sites of livestock depredation) and indirect reports oflocal peoples, hunters and shepherds. Based on the average daily home range/traveling distance (average 2.3 km for the daytime and 1.7 km for night) and daily activeness (6 h 40 min for day; 4h 20 min; 4h 30 min for night) of the animal as given by the Gavrilov (2015), all evidences including direct and indirect within ~4 km area (average 24 h travelling range) were transformed into one animal (the least count), with exceptions where based on different foot prints (e.g., one small one large etc.) two animals were considered.

Results and Discussion

Distribution. Data revealed that Himalayan brown bear was distributed in different localities of Musk Deer National Park (MDNP). The direct and indirect evidences ofbear were frequently found in all three zones of the study area (Phulawai, Sardari and Loser) (Table 1).

Maximum bear population (n=5) was recorded in Losar zone, that is connected to Deosai National Park. Among three Zones, the maximum bear evidences (n=20) were found at Loser followed by Sardari (n=18) and Phulawai (n=12) (Table 1). Earlier studies conducted inNeelum Valley confirmed the distribution of brown bear in Gumote, Shonther, Gurez and valleys (Nawaz, 2007; Iftikhar, 2006; Qamar et al., 2005). The Gurez Valley branching off at Kel, having MDNP on the both sides of River Neelum, particularly has potential habitat of brown bear (Nawaz, 2007; Qamar et al., 2005), though, poaching and other human activities confined brown bear to certain area of the Valley (Qamar et al., 2005).

Population density. A total population of about 12 animals estimated in 17 field surveys was distributed over an area of 28.60 [km.sup.2] in different localities of MDNP. Population density of the study area was recorded as 0.42 bear/[km.sup.2] (Table 2), maximum (0.45 bear/[km.sup.2]) at Loser zone followed by Sardari (0.43 bear/[km.sup.2]) while least (0.37 bear/[km.sup.2]) population density noted at Phulawai zone (Table 1).

Loser Zone has high population due to its potential habitat features. Most of the area consists upon a mixture of steep and gentle slopes, covered with a plenty of vegetation and far from human settlement. Vegetation cover not only provide hide to the bear but also has a plenty of food. Highest population density (0.63 bear/ [km.sup.2]) was recorded at Qamri locality of Loser area. This locality has direct connection to Deosai National Park through Qamri Top and there are strong evidences that brown bear is frequently visiting both sides of the Qamri Top. Fecal droppings (n=6), foot prints (n=5) and ground scratching (n=5) were recorded in this locality (Table 1). Population density estimated based on direct evidences, indirect evidences were asked to confirm field observations. Direct evidences confined to different localities provide a complete picture on population estimation because brown bear remain active more than 40% in a day period, traveling 4 km per day in average. Speed is varying in different habitats and maximum speed is up to 6.5 km/h in the grasslands to 0.3 km/h in scrubland (Gavrilov, 2015). In forests, the average speed of bear recorded as 0.7 km/h (Gavrilov, 2015).

Altitudinal variation was also noted in bear population in the study area. Altitude of the study area was ranged between 2200 m and 3800 m asl, which was divided in three classes. Class I has altitude of less than 2500 m, Class II ranged between 2500 m to 3000 m while Class III has an altitude of >3000 m asl. Overall highest population density (0.46 bear/[km.sup.2]) was recorded in Class III, followed by Class I (0.40 bear/[km.sup.2]) while least (0.39 bear/[km.sup.2]) was noted in Class II (Fig. 2). In neighboring region i.e., India, the potential distribution range of Himalayan brown bear is about 36,800 [km.sup.2] in the sub-alpine and alpine regions between 3000-5000 m in the Himalayas and Trans-Himalayan regions (Rathore, 2008). Himalayan brown bear preferred alpine meadows and subalpine scrub mostly. However, it may descend down in search of food and shelter in different seasons and circumstances. Results of present study corresponded with previous literature, such as Nawaz (2007), who reported 10-15 individuals in the same area. Most of this population was found distributed in the extreme northern portion of the study area, which is in the proximity of the Deosai National Park. Based on the findings of the present study and information collected earlier, it is inferred that these bears are still present and their population is almost stable in the area.

Among the three zones of the study area, the majority (42%) of the bear population was found in Loser Zone (n=5) followed by Sardari Zone (n=4, 33%) and Phulawai Zone (n=3, 25%). Losar and Sardari Zones are located on the northern part of the national park, bordering the Northern areas and the Indian-held Kashmir. These areas are potential habitats of brown bear outside the study area and bear movements are usually reported between the study area and these adjoining areas. Besides, these zones of the park have sparsely populated human settlements, with less disturbance for bear population. Population density of these bears varies with respect to habitats and favorable habitats have high population density (Seryodkin, 2006; Miller et al., 1997). They face high hunting pressure because of the medicinal value of body parts and fat (Qamar et al., 2005). Fragmentation enhances highly risk of mortality of brown bears because low home range and food coerce bear toward human settlements and intensify its conflict (Nielsen et al., 2006; 2004). Population growth of such isolated and undersized populations are adversely affected even small numbers of members eliminated (Wakkinen and Kasworm, 2004); on the contrary, avoiding just a few deaths possibly halts a population decline (Garshelis et al., 2005; Wiegand et al., 1998).

Habitat fragmentation roots a great demographic and genetic risk to isolated populations (Proctor et al., 2004). Increasing human populations multiply this risk and speeds up the rate of habitat degradation in their vicinities (Nawaz, 2007; Can and Togan, 2004). However, if protection is provided, small populations could successfully be recuperated (USFWS, 2005). Reintroduction is an important tool that has restored numbers and geographic range in numerous locations in the U.S. and Western Europe (Clark et al., 2002; Servheen et al., 1994).

The reasons that the population of brown bears in the area could not increase in the area is more probably due to the huge human settlements. Rapid increase in human population, number of settlements and utilization of natural resources are the major contributing factors which adversely affect the brown bear population (Nawaz, 2007). These activities such as grazing, agriculture, fuel wood collection, hydroelectric developments etc. are well reported in literature (Waller and Servheen, 2005; Proctor et al., 2005; 2004). Various studies including Ali et al. (2016); Qamar et al. (2012); Qamar et al. (2010) and Ali et al. (2007) reported that potential habitats are disturbed by human being and over grazing, timber and fuel wood extraction, illegal collection of medicinal plants and illegal hunting are the major issues of the Neelum Valley. High demand of its fat for medicinal use is the severe risk to these animals in the area (Qamar et al., 2005).

Conclusion

In conclusion, Musk Deer National Parks harbors 12 Himalayan brown bears with a mean population density of 0.42 bear/[km.sup.2]. Study area has potential bear habitat characterizing different vegetation cover and ecological attributes. Bear population preferred higher altitudes (>3000 m asl). North-eastern boundary of MDNP is connected with Deosai National Park. Effective conservation efforts could support bear population up to self-sustaining level hence human interference should be reduced to maximum level in MDNP. This is an incipient study, and many of the scientific aspects of this precious threatened species are yet to be explored in the Neelum Valley. It is recommended that genetic diversity of brown bear could be investigated, that gives us the roots of Neelum Valley bear population. It is also suggested that the effects of illegal hunting (particularly intensity in chronological order) and habitat fragmentation may be studied.

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Liaqat Ali Khan (a), Riaz Aziz Minhas (a), Muhammad Siddique Awan (a), Khawaja Basharat Ahmad (a), Nuzhat Shafi (a), Usman Ali (b) * and Naeem Iftikhar (c)

(a) Department of Zoology, University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, Pakistan

(b) Department of Zoology Mirpur University of Science and Technology (MUST), Mirpur, 10250 Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan

(c) Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Muzaffarabad, Pakistan

(received October 3, 2016; revised May 19, 2017; accepted June 22, 2017)

* Author for correspondence;

E-mail: usman.zoology@must.edu.pk

Caption: Fig. 1. Location map of study area (MDNP) showing different study zones.

Caption: Fig. 2. Estimated populations of Brown bear at different elevation ranges in MDNP during 2011-2012.
Table 1. Comparison of Himalayan brown bear population in
different localities of MDNP during study period

Zone       Locality    Mean        Area
                       elevation   surveyed
                                   ([km.sup.2])

Phulawai   Doga        2480        2.9

           Saonarr     2490        2.1

           Hanthi      2540        3.2

           Total                   8.2

Sardari    Helmet      2590        3.9

           Karimabad   2530        2.6

           Taobut      3280        2.8

           Total                   9.3

Loser      Gagai       3330        2.1

           Ratta       2990        3
           Pani

           Dudhegai    3450        2.8

           Qamri       3380        3.2

           Total                   11.1

Zone       Locality    Habitat conditions

Phulawai   Doga        Gentle slopes usually thickly vegetated
                       with Pinus spp., Taxus wallichiana,
                       Arnebia benthamii, Valeriana jatamansi,
                       Berberis lycium. Agricultural
                       activities, including grass cutting,
                       grazing etc are observed in this
                       locality.

           Saonarr     Thick vegetation of Pinus wallichiana,
                       Pinus roxburghii, Cedrus deodara,
                       Saussurea lappa at lower altitude while
                       Berberis lycium and Betula utilis at
                       higher gentle slopes. Grazing is common
                       along with terrace cultivation.

           Hanthi      Herbal blend includes Aconitum
                       heterophyllum, Angelica cyclocarpa,
                       Podophyllum hexandrum at higher slopes
                       while frequent terrace cultivation noted
                       on lower areas. Betula utilis, Pinus
                       wallichiana, and Pinus roxburghii are
                       important tree species.

           Total

Sardari    Helmet      Gentle slopes covered with evergreen
                       forests of Pinus wallichiana and Pinus
                       roxburghii. Cultivation observed on both
                       sides of river Neelum, upper altitudes
                       has grazing impacts.

           Karimabad   Gentle and steep slopes covered with
                       Pinus spp. Along with Betula utilis,
                       Saussurea lappa, Aconitum heterophyllum
                       and Berberis lycium at upper reaches.

           Taobut      Dense Pinus vegetation covered gentle
                       slopes of area where grazing and
                       cultivation activities are prominent.

           Total

Loser      Gagai       Area having blend of Alpine and Sub
                       alpine, Taxus wallichiana, Arnebia
                       benthamii, Valerianajatamansi, Berberis
                       lycium and Betula utilis are important
                       species. Upper reaches are under heavy
                       livestock grazing pressure, both by
                       local and nomads.

           Ratta       Steep slopes having main vegetation of
           Pani        Taxus wallichiana, Valerianajatamansi,
                       Arnebia benthamii, Aconitum
                       heterophyllum, Berberis lycium and
                       Betula utilis

           Dudhegai    Gentle slopes charactrized by dense
                       covering of Taxus wallichiana, Arnebia
                       benthamii, Valerianajatamansi, Berberis
                       lycium and Betula utilis. Seasonal heavy
                       livestock grazing pressure is noted.

           Qamri       Both steep and gentle slopes covered
                       with mixed alpine grasses and sub-alpine
                       scrub. Area grazed heavily by nomad
                       livestock at spring and autumn season
                       during their travel to MDNP and vice
                       versa.

           Total

Zone       Locality    Evidence            Estimated    Population
                                           population   density
                       Direct   Indirect                (bear/
                                                        [km.sup.2])

Phulawai   Doga        FD=4,    WW=2       1            0.34
                       FP=1,    Sh=2,
                       GS=2     LP=1

           Saonarr     FD=2     WW=2.      1            0.48
                                Sh=2

           Hanthi      FD=4     WW=3,      1            0.31
                                Sh=2

           Total                           3            0.37

Sardari    Helmet      FD=8     WW=3,      2            0.51
                                Sh=2,
                                LP=1

           Karimabad   FD=1     WW=3       1            0.38
                                Sh=4,
                                LP=2

           Taobut      FD=4,    WW=3,      1            0.36
                       GS=2     Sh=5,
                                LP=3

           Total                           4            0.43

Loser      Gagai       FD=6,    WW=2,      1            0.48
                       FP=10,   Sh, =5,
                       FR=3,    LP=3
                       GS=6

           Ratta       FD=9,    WW=4,      1            0.33
           Pani        FP=7,    Sh=5,
                       GS=4     LP=4

           Dudhegai    FD=5,    WW=5,      1            0.36
                       FP=2,    Sh=7,
                       GS=2     LP=4

           Qamri       FD=6,    WW=6,      2            0.63
                       FP=5,    Sh=8,
                       GS=5,    LP=4
                       FR=6

           Total                                        5 0.45

FD = fecal droppings; FP = foot prints; FR = food remains;
GS = ground scratching; WW = wildlife watcher; Sh = shepherd;
LP = local people.
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Title Annotation:Special Paper
Author:Khan, Liaqat Ali; Minhas, Riaz Aziz; Awan, Muhammad Siddique; Ahmad, Khawaja Basharat; Shafi, Nuzhat
Publication:Pakistan Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research Series B: Biological Sciences
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Sep 1, 2018
Words:4074
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