Indian bears are immortalized in Kipling’s Baloo, a spin on the Hindi word for bear “Bhaloo”. But the truth is that there isn’t just one “baloo”.
India is home to three different sub-species, which are quite distinct from one another.
With shaggy fur, sharp claws and long snouts, these bears are usually found in rugged areas of Central India, the Western Ghats, the Aravallis and Assam.
They are endemic to the Indian Subcontinent, and our favourite place to see this bear in its native habitat is Satpura National Park in Central India. With steep ravines, craggy cliff-faces and greenery full of termites, ants and berries, its an ideal habitat for the sloth bear.
The sloth bear is a misunderstood creature. It has a dubious reputation in rural India, and is feared for its ferocity and its unpredictability.
But that usually arises out of habitat fragmentation and encroachment, which results in a loss of its territory. The sloth bear is also vulnerable to poaching, and several bears have been rescued from captivity and rehabilitated in the wild by conservationists.
Asiatic Black Bear
Marked by a distinctive white “half moon” of fur on its chest, the Asiatic Black Bear was once prolific throughout the Indian Subcontinent.
Today, only a few of these creatures are left, and its primary habitat is in Namdapha, a far-flung north-eastern corner of Arunachal Pradesh, but you can also spot them sometimes in other mountainous regions, as high as 10000 ft., and in some lower lying areas like Kaziranga as well. This bear is a heavy creature and when it rears up on its hind legs, it stands quite tall.
It’s also a ferocious fighter. Jim Corbett was witness to an epic battle between a tiger and a black bear in Kumaon, where a bear defeated a tiger and chased it away, despite the tiger tearing at its scalp and snout.
Himalayan Sun Bear
Ursus arctos isabellinus
In the upper reaches of Ladakh you can’t miss the distinctive gait of the Himalayan Brown Bear, as it ambles along the cliffs and valleys in Drass, Suru and Zanskar in solitary splendour.
With a huge head and stocky frame, this bear has thick, reddish-brown fur.
In the summer months, they go all the way up the mountain face to stay cool in the snow, and descend in autumn to spend their winters in the valleys. Our favourite time of year to observe them is April and May, as they start to head into the mountains. Despite their bulk, these animals are light-footed creatures. They are very sensitive to touch and can literally feel their way around, without making a single sound.
While they rarely attack human beings, these bears are known to enjoy a midnight feast, feasting on corn fields and apple orchards, and also prey on small animals
Encounters Asia partners closely with the Brown Bear Project, a part of the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust. Our naturalists and guides are extremely skilled and take you deep into these alpine forests to observe this animal in its natural habitat. Most of the time, you’ll fin them roaming solo, but every once in a while, you catch a mother and her cub, walking down the mountain slopes together, or a family of young cubs frolicking in the snow — a perfect camera capture.