Surprise find of Himalayan Black Bear in Bardia National Park, Nepal

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The Rare Sighting of Himalayan Black Bear in Bardia National Park.

I was in Bardia in April, celebrating my birthday in the forest. Having celebrated my birthday a day before with a great sighting of the resident male leopard and a distant view of a sub-adult tiger, I was energized and excited to be inside the national park again for more exciting sightings.

Bardia National Park, located in the western Terai region of Nepal, is the largest national park in Nepal, covering an area of 968 square kilometers. Bardia consists of 70% sal forest, which consists of sal trees, with a mixture of grassland and riverine forests. The Park is home to over 30 different mammals and 230 species of birds.

Its surrounding area includes Thakurdwara -the park headquarters and where all tourist lodges are situated, the Karnali River floodplains bordering the national park on the West, and 30kms of the Mahendra Highway, which intersects the park on the northern side. Most safari and tourist activities are concentrated in the region bordered by  Thakurdwara, the park headquarters in the East, Karnali river floodplains on the west, and the Mahendra highway intersection on the North.

 

Wasting no time with an early breakfast, I hopped into our safari jeep with my nature guides, Sitaram Tharu and Manju Mahatara, and headed for a full day of jeep safari with a packed lunch. Sitaram would be driving our safari vehicle, and Manju would be guiding the safari. Taking in fresh morning air and the sounds of the dawn chorus of birds, we trudged along the jungle track in our safari vehicle, keeping an open eye for Tigers.

The April morning at the end of spring and beginning of Summer was already warming up and the weather update promised a full sunny day. Our agenda for the day was to drive North toward the highway through grasslands first and then Sal forests checking for any signs of tiger movement. We would check the Motipur waterhole south of the highway, where we had missed seeing the tiger a few days back after leaving the spot.

Waterholes play a crucial role as vital water sources for wildlife, particularly during the dry season when water sources can become scarce. These waterholes are strategically located throughout the park, ensuring that animals can access water year-round.

Around Mid morning we reached the Motipur water hole, there were already a few safari vehicles and tourists waiting out their luck for the revered sighting. This particular water hole was situated 200m south of the highway on the eastern area of the safari zone bordering Motipur village further east. The waterhole is about 30 by 40 ft in length and width, surrounded by heavy sal and riverine forest on three sides, and on the eastern side, shrubs and trees extend to the jungle jeep track.

Other nature guides were telling their clients stories of how this particular bold female tigress had been visiting the waterhole in recent days, further fuelling the anticipation of a sighting soon.  We hid our jeep in the cover next to the jungle track and waited an hour or so with open ears and eyes for tell-tale signs of the Tiger or alarm calls. When we didn’t hear any promising signs and felt there were more tourists than ideal for a tiger’s appearance, we left the waterhole to head west and check the rest of the park and other areas and promised to check back when the temperatures soared further in the afternoon.

Instead of driving through the jungle tracks and reaching the Karnali floodplain areas, we decided to head west along the highway and enter the forest again around the western edge to reach the Karnali floodplains which are also very promising areas for tiger sightings due to the Karnali river and adjoining grassland and riverine forest created by it on the western edge. But alas, just when we had reached the area of Lalmati, Manju received a call from another guide telling her to rush back as there were lot of calls on an area in the highway adjoining the Motipur waterhole.

We rushed back to the highway and drove in fear that we might have missed a great sighting. But luck was on our side and we reached the spot on the highway just in time to witness one of the most exciting tiger sightings for me as the tiger came out of the forest and crossed the Mahendra highway in its stride giving us a look to say wait. The traffic on the highway was none except a few safari jeeps along with ours. This story is I shall share in more detail in another blog.

Hence, since we had witnessed the wonderful crossing of the Tiger from south of the highway to the north, I had a gut feeling that we would also get lucky of a sighting of the Tigress in the Motipur waterhole which was close to this area further East. So we went and stayed put in the Motipur area even having our lunch quietly in the jeep. Initially, we had a few safari jeeps waiting at Motipur waterhole, but as the temperatures and humidity rose, patience ran out as most guests left unable to withstand the sweltering heat and quietness.

I didn’t want to leave as I had missed seeing the tiger as it appeared after we left the spot 2 days ago. Hence, I was hell-bent on seeing this wonderful bold tigress in the water this time without fail if it graced us with its presence.

By 3:30 pm, there was just me and my two guides and one another jeep consisting of three foreign guests along with their guide whom I also knew well.

Quenching our thirst with water in intervals and shifting in our canvas seats or jeep seats uneasily we waited despite the heat.  I was scanning the forest cover around the waterhole with my trusted Swarovski Binoculars frequently and keeping a keen sense of hearing for any alarm calls that may give away the presence of a tiger.

Another half an hour or so later, we were awakened from our weary state, by Spotted Deer alarm calls nearby. Suddenly the forest and we were awakened to our full senses.  I disembarked from the jeep and hid in the shrub cover overlooking the waterhole from the east side, camera ready in hand in full anticipation of the Tiger appearing any time.

The deer calls further heightened the excitement as we surveyed the waterhole and forest around it without any movement to give away our presence.

Suddenly, I heard my guide Manju say “Sir Bear ..Bear “. It took some time for to register what she was saying and what I saw because I was looking for yellow orange black stripes of the tiger.

After few seconds of confusion, I then realise  that Big Bear is standing on the western edge of the waterhole looking intently to our side. I started clicking photos from the bush/shrub without arranging a more open view as I didn’t want to alarm the Bear.

The Bear confident now , slowly entered the waterhole and wallowed itself and dip its snout in the water to drink. I started to observe the Bear more while I tried taking video footage along with stills. It was then that I realized that this was a Himalayan Black Bear and not a Sloth Bear.

I realised what a rare exciting sighting this was. This was a big Himalayan Black Bear in front of us at a low altitude of around 300 meters when Himalayan Black Bears are supposed to inhabit hilly terrain between 1500 m to 3000 m elevation.

After wallowing and drinking in the waterhole for a few minutes, the Bear unwillingly got out of the waterhole and stood at the edge, pausing for a minute or so looking right and then disappearing into the left side of the shrubs and forest.

My guides were literally at loss of words as even sighting a Sloth Bear in Bardia National Park was quite rare and yet here was a Himalayan Black Bear in the midst of us at such a low altitude.  We couldn’t hold back our excitement and smiles as we took in the experience of our first-ever sighting of a Himalayan Black Bear.

Before we could fully celebrate this rare sighting, our high five and wows were interrupted by the appearance of a Tiger on the same western edge of the waterhole where initially the Bear had appeared few minutes ago. The tiger looked intently towards the left where the Himalayan Black Bear had disappeared into the foilage just few minutes ago.

The Tiger then looked towards us as we were not in thick cover as before due to us celebrating the Bear sighting. We then crouched and hid while the Tiger slowly drank water and then made its way to the pool of water .

At this moment I am sure me and my guides were awestruck with what events unfolding before us. Here was the Bold Tigress in the waterhole a few minutes apart from the time the Bear left. The Tigress was enjoying cooling off in the water and at the same time watching us with intent eyes while lapping up water with its tongue. I took photos of the Bold Beautiful Tigress in this wonderful state to my heart’s content and even managed to make a video clip with my trusty D850 DSLR and 500 prime lens handheld. Having quenched its thirst and cooled off, the Tigress made a royal exit leaving us to fully accommodate the turn of events that just took place.

Our initial wows were transformed into oh my goodness !! having witnessed a rare sighting of a Himalayan Black Bear in the lowland minutes apart from the Tigress appearing exactly at the same spot and waterhole was a surreal experience that left me and my guides with goosebumps for sure.

The three foreign guests from the other jeep were smiling at the sighting of the tiger. Their safari goals had been met with outstanding sightings. They didn’t know that The Himalayan Black Bear sighting in Bardia National Park was even more rare indeed.

I was delighted beyond imagination and celebrated with coffee and big smiles and exclamations with Sitaram and Manju, my nature guides, thanking them for this once-in-a-lifetime experience in Nature. I felt blessed by Mother Nature that day. My guides and I were happy to end the day with all smiles having a grand rare safari and sighting.


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10 thoughts on “Surprise find of Himalayan Black Bear in Bardia National Park, Nepal”

  1. Kamal Gosai

    Awesome, this article is very compressively written. This provides lots of lessons and knowledge to newcomers and to the professionals as well.
    Thank you and keep writing Sir

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