In a first recorded incident of it’s kind in Bhutan, a Himalayan black bear was killed and eaten by a Bengal tiger in the Jigme Dorji National Park. On November 7th, a team of foresters found the carcass of the bear with only the head, paws and skin remaining in Domenda, a two day walk from Dodena in Thimphu at an altitude of 4079m.
This find has thrown up a lot of questions about the tigers presence in this high altitude area that too in winter, about their relationship with the Himalayan black bear and the implications of the tiger’s presence in snow leopard territory.
Phub Tshering, the JDNP park beat officer who discovered the carcass said that there were many indications to confirm that the kill was indeed made by a Bengal tiger. To begin with, there were canine puncture wounds on the bear’s throat and spine, there were also tiger claw marks lacerating the bear’s face and pug marks in the area. There were also signs of struggle between the two animals as there were uprooted rhododendrons bushes and claw marks on trees.
Dr. Sonam Wangyel a wildlife biologist and the chief forestry officer said that the bengal tiger and the Himalayan bear must have crossed paths accidentally as usually they avoid each other. In this case, according to the doctor, the bear would have been 2 – 3 years old as a fully grown bear would be a powerful foe to any tiger.
Phub Tshering said that since the last three years, there were multiple signs of the tiger’s presence in these high altitude areas.
Though there is no conclusive proof, Dr. Sonam Wangyel said that one of the reasons for it’s presence so high up could be the pushing up of the tree line due to the climate change. Another reason could also be the shrinking and disturbed habitat at lower altitudes, forcing the tigers up the mountains where it can live undisturbed. Another reason for the tigers presence at these high altitudes could be to cross into other valleys.
This incident has also given a peek into the relationship between the Himalayan black bear and the Bengal tiger. From a camera trap set up in Nabji in 2006, it was documented that at alternate intervals a black bear was feeding from a bull killed by a tiger. So the bear may also be benefiting from the tigers kills said Dr. Sonam Wangyel. In the wild, he said, carnivores would try to eliminate competition and the bear killed could be a possible competitor.
The presence of tigers in the snow leopard’s ever decreasing habitat, could change the higher altitude eco-systems drastically and pose a huge threat to their survival.