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RCG Project Descriptions for 2011 Grants

Csaba Domokos, M.Sc. student, University of West Hungary, & Project Manager,  Association for Bird and Nature Protection "Milvus Group," Romania ($6,300 USD)

During 2011, this project will continue efforts in Brown bear conservation and research in Romania (Eastern Transylvania, Western side of the Eastern Carpathians): improvement of the social acceptance of the species (education-information), conservation oriented scientific research (research on habitat use, movement and activity patterns, den characteristics), as well as conservation of the bears’ habitat (designation of new protected areas, mitigation of habitat fragmentation that will be caused by a planned highway).

Some of these activities have already started back in 2006, while some are more recent. Some of our prior results: more, than 500 children participated at our educational activities in schools, at the local ZOO and in the Forest School, we have distributed more, than 500 of our own brochures about bear biology, ecology and damage prevention, we have mounted and donated 6 electric fences to local farmers for preventing damages caused by bears, we have identified and are currently monitoring 21 bear dens, we are in the process of designating hopefully over 19.000 km2 of new protected areas for bears (Natura2000 sites) in Romania.

Keith Miller, M.S. Student, Central Michigan University, U.S.A. ($2,200 USD)

This study is focused on the modeling of potential corridors for the Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) among remaining habitat in the northern Andean range of Venezuela and encompasses five protected national parks (Terepama, Yacambú, El Guache, Dinira, Guaramacal). The project was started in August 2009. Extensive collaboration has been established with a recent study conducted by García-Rangel (unpublished PhD dissertation) that implemented habitat suitability modeling in the Sierra de Portuguesa region of Venezuela. The important issue of habitat connectivity has not yet been examined. Identification of potential corridor linkages between Andean bear habitat patches and habitat connectivity at a regional scale using GIS-based modeling focused on dispersal capabilities for Andean bears and landscape characteristics will be attempted.

Marine Murtskhvaladze, Ph.D. Student, Institute of Ecology, Ilia State University, Georgia ($4,700 USD)

The aim of the proposed project is to shed light on the key questions dealing with taxonomy and population genetic structure of brown bear (Ursus arctos) in the Caucasus. The main threats for this species are habitat fragmentation and poaching (Brown bear SSR -Georgia).  Brown bear is listed in National Red lists of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

The current Project will cover the entire south Caucasian range of the species (including Azerbaijan, Armenia, and yet uncovered parts of Georgia) and will be technically executed in the new molecular-genetic laboratory of the Biodiversity Research Centre of the Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia. Our Collaborators from Azerbaijan and Armenia will provide the samples collected in their countries. We expect the following outcome: Taxonomic status and population genetic structure of brown bear in the Caucasus is revised, management units of the brown bear population are defined, and scientific paper published based on the obtained information.

Dr. Muhammed Ali Nawaz, Country Director, Snow Leopard Trust, Pakistan  ($9,697 USD)

The new Broghil National Park (BNP) is situated in the extreme north of district Chitral at an altitude ranging from 10,000- 14,000 ft. Kishmanjah village is the lowest point with an elevation round about 10,200 ft and Kurambar Lake is the highest (14,121 ft). Geographically BNP share boundaries with Gilgit-Baltistan in the east, Wakhan strip (Afghanistan) in the northwest, and Yarkhoon valley of Chitral district in the south. The valley is connected with neighboring Gilgit- Baltistan and Afghanistan by a number of well known passes like Darwaza Pass, Darkhot Pass, Sukhtarabad Pass etc. The area is inhabited by Wakhi Community, which speaks Wakhi language as primary mean of communication. Climatic conditions in the valley are extremely harsh throughout the year. Precipitation is mainly received as snow from October to the end of May. Pastoral activities supplemented by limited agriculture, localized trade and tourism are the main sources of livelihood and cash income generation. The valley is rich in floral and faunal diversity. The key mammal species of the valley are brown bear, snow leopard, Himalayan ibex, and blue sheep.   Focusing on the Broghil National Park, the proposed study aims to achieve following objectives:

  • Population estimate of brown bear in the area.
  • Assessment of human-bear conflicts, and major threats faced by the brown bear and their prey species.
  • Build capacity of the stakeholders i.e. Government Wildlife Department staff and local community in brown bear monitoring techniques.

The study will employ the use of questionnaires, interviews from local informants, occupancy survey and molecular genetics techniques. 

Dr. S. Sathyakumar, Scientist-F / Professor & Head, Department of Endangered Species Management, Wildlife Institute of India ($9,000 USD)

Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) - human interactions is a major management issue in the Kashmir region of India. A research project (2007-2012) was initiated at Dachigam National Park by the WII to understand black bear ecology and bear-human interactions using conventional field methods and modern tools such as satellite telemetry, camera trapping and molecular genetics. During the last three years of work, scientific information on the black bear revealed that Dachigam NP has high bear densities for a brief period during late summer as a result of high fruit abundance in patches (particularly the Quercus robur plantation) indicating possible immigration of individuals from adjacent bear habitats.  Despite high food abundance in summer within the bear habitats of Dachigam NP, substantial crop depredation and bear-human interactions occur outside the bear habitats in this landscape.  We propose to find answers to some questions through genetic studies, exploring a few aspects of population genetics of black bear in Dachigam landscape i.e. genetic diversity assessment, population estimation, molecular tracking of individuals and genetic structuring of the population. We have 200 hair samples and 400 scat samples collected so far.

Lorraine Scotson, Ph.D. Student, University of Minnesota, U.S.A. ($7,765 USD)

Ms. Scotson has been developing information on spatial distribution, ecology and conservation status of Asiatic black bear and Malayan sun bear in Lao Peoples Democratic Republic.   She has moved her graduate study program to Minnesota to work under Dave Garshelis.

The pilot season for this project was completed in NEPL NPA (northern Laos) during January – May 2010 (her first year's report was one of the best we have had in recent years.)  The research is planned to continue for another 2 years with the following objectives.

  1. Create a reliable distribution map of bears in Laos based on data collected through sign surveys, local interviews and existing field data.
  2. Use Species Distribution Modeling (SDM) techniques to identify critical ‘at risk’ habitats as well as regional strongholds to help direct conservation management actions.
  3. Use interview surveys, direct evidence of poaching (e.g., poaching camps, snares), and absence of bears in suitable habitat to identify and quantify threats to populations including hunting pressure, international trade and human-bear conflict.
  4. Promote continued in-country research and conservation of bears by training and supporting a number of Lao MSc students to undertake bear-related projects;disseminating results on a local, national and global scale.
  5. Establish a framework for long-term population monitoring.

Sandeep Sharma & Trishna Dutta.  Ph.D. Students, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute & George Mason University, U.S.A.  ($9,000 USD)

This study will compare gene flow between sloth bear populations between four Protected areas:  Bori-Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR), Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR), Kanha Tiger Reserve (KTR) and  Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) STR and MTR are connected through a forest corridor, as are KTR and PTR. Dinerstein et al. (2007) categorize the Satpura-Maikal landscape harboring Kanha-Pench and Satpura-Melghat tiger reserve as tiger conservation landscape of global priority. 

No systematic study of sloth bear genetics has been attempted in India.  The team conducted field work during 2009-2010 and collected approximately 200 fecal samples. They have done similar work on tigers and leopards in the same landscape, and are sure about the feasibility of the project.  The IBA grant will be used for lab analysis, writing up and publication.

Maria Paulina Viteri, Ph.D. student, University of Idaho, U.S.A. ($5,000 USD)

Paulina plans to use genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA and nuclear DNA to determine intra-specific phylogeography and population structure of Andean bears in Ecuador to evaluate population status, trends and fragmentation.  The focus is on the Ecuadorian populations, but comparisons will be made with information generated for Andean bear populations from other countries where data are available.  Research conducted within Ecuador is carried out inside protected areas using genetic sampling of hair and feces with the collaboration of many researchers, local NGOs, institutions and people from mestizo and indigenous communities that live near bear habitat.

Paulina and her group will be using ecological niche modeling to better understand the past, current and future distribution of Andean bears across the landscape.  This technique will help to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the species and also to understand some of the impacts of climate change on Andean bear populations.  In addition, they will use landscape genetic tools to identify local patterns of genetic diversity and structure, and variables (i.e., environmental, spatial or anthropogenic) that are driving these patterns.  Currently they have analyzed genetic samples from Antisana, Cayambe-Coca and Guandera reserves and have additional samples from other areas in Ecuador that need to be analyzed.

This information is an important component of the Ecuadorian Strategy for Andean bear Conservation that was published this year by the Ministry of the Environment of Ecuador.  In addition, our approach of working with local people to conduct bear research is an additional component of Ms. Viteri’s PhD dissertation which explores approaches for integrating science and traditional ecological knowledge to study and conserve Andean bears in Ecuador.

Drs. Dajun Wang & Cheng Wen ($9,000 USD)

Direct evidence of the continued existence of sun bears in China is lacking.  This expedition will strive to find them. This field-research work will be conducted in and around two mountainous nature reserves in southern Yunnan Province, which support the largest mature cloud forest ecosystems in the region.  Cheng Wen has worked in the area for biodiversity assessment and conservation projects on other species since 2007.  The collaboration networks have been built up with the nature reserve staff.