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Dr. Nishith Dharaiya; Co-Chair IUCN Sloth Bear Expert Team
Dr. Melissa Reynolds-Hogland; Bear Trust International
Northeastern part of the State of Gujarat, India
Sloth bears are listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which means this species is not endangered but it is facing a high rate of extinction in the wild. The IUCN states that sloth bears have likely declined by 30-49% over the last 30 years, mostly due to habitat loss.
We know that sloth bear habitat is declining, and we assume that because their habitat is declining so is the population of sloth bears. The truth is, no one really knows how many sloth bears still exist because almost all sloth bear population “estimates” have been “guesstimates” based on expert opinion (IUCN, 2015). Because we do not have a reliable estimate for the population size of sloth bears, it is really difficult to track whether sloth bear conservation efforts are working. We need a reliable method to estimate sloth bear population size.
Addressing the Need
Our goal is to use a non-invasive, genetic approach to estimate the population size of sloth bears. Such an approach has been successfully used to estimate population sizes of other animals in India, like tigers. As a pilot study to test whether or not this genetic approach will work for sloth bears, we have selected the northeastern portion of Gujarat as our study site. Our first task is to collect samples from wild sloth bears and determine if we can isolate DNA to identify unique individuals. Assuming we are successful with this first task, we will estimate the population size of sloth bears throughout the northeastern portion of Gujarat. We seek to use this method to estimate the population size of sloth bears throughout Gujarat and, ultimately, throughout all of its range.
photo copyright: shutterstock